Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bad performance record knocks out racial discrimination claim

This case tells us that there is no getting around a bad performance record when you are suing for employment discrimination.

The case is Wright v. City of Syracuse, a summary order issued on April 16. The Court of Appeals summarizes the plaintiff's work history:

 During the course of Wright’s employment, the City subjected him to official discipline on several occasions. For instance, between 1993 and 2007, Wright was suspended eight times for a variety of infractions, including reporting late and failing to report for work, fighting with and threatening co-workers, insubordination, and theft of City property. In January 2009, Wrigtht was terminated for another incident of insubordination, in which he was accused of acting belligerent and threatening to a supervisor. The City, however, entered into a settlement agreement with Local 400 to permit Wright to continue working. Finally, in February 2010, Wright was detained by the police after attempting to turn in scrap metal belonging to the City to a commercial recycling facility. For this offense, Wright’s employment was terminated.
This case is a summary order, so we don't know how plaintiff claimed his termination resulted from racial discrimination.The Court of Appeals (Cabranes, Sack and Lynch) doesn't see it, either. The Second Circuit says plaintiff cannot make out a prima facie case of discrimination because no reasonable jury would find he was terminated under circumstances creating an inference of racial discrimination. While plaintiff also claims retaliation for asserting his rights under the civil rights laws, the same analysis applies. No inference of retaliatory intent. Nor is there a hostile work environment claim.

The district court ruling sheds light on plaintiff's arguments. On the hostile work environment claim, the trial court wrote, "Plaintiff testified that he felt his employment environment was hostile because nobody on his crew liked him nor would they communicate with him, despite the fact that they never made any racial comments to him. Plaintiff further testified that he felt like he was walking on egg shells at work because he feared being disciplined for things that other people were not disciplined for, and that despite being a victim when a white employee lifted his leg up behind Plaintiff's head and when another employee patted his butt, Plaintiff was still disciplined." This was not enough to avoid summary judgment.

On the discriminatory discharge claim, the trial court wrote, "Plaintiff has not identified any evidence of discriminatory or retaliatory animus based on his race as it relates to his termination. The sole question of fact Plaintiff identifies, which is whether Nolan stated in 2007 that no black man would get promoted on his watch, is irrelevant to Plaintiff's termination. The evidence reflects that Defendant O'Connor, who was Commissioner at the time, made the decision to terminate Plaintiff. Even assuming that Defendants Thompson and Simone advised or encouraged O'Connor to terminate Plaintiff, there is no evidence of racial animus or bias on behalf of O'Connor, Thompson or Simone against Plaintiff."

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