Articles Posted in Racial Discrimination

By Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On May 15, 2017, the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the Township High School District 214’s motion to dismiss in Valdivia v. Township High School District 214, where Noemi Valdivia, a Hispanic high school secretary, claimed that co-workers’ derogatory comments about Hispanic students and their families forced her to resign.  She brings a hostile work environment claim based on race under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and an interference claim for defendant’s failure to inform her that she was eligible for 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Ms. Valdivia began working at District 214’s Elk Grove High School in 2010. Although she claims that her coworkers had always made derogatory remarks about Hispanic students and their families, in September 2014, these remarks became more frequent. For example, one of her peers allegedly said that Hispanic people “came to America” and “want everything for free even though they have new cell phones and their nails done.” Another told Ms. Valdivia not to speak Spanish at work because they were in “America.” Ms. Valdivia claims that she complained to both the school principal and the assistant principal, but both told her there was nothing they could do since “the secretaries’ union was too strong.”

Lev Craig

On May 9, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied summary judgment in Ahmed v. Astoria Bank, where plaintiff Sherin Ahmed brought religion, race, and national origin discrimination claims against her former employer. The Second Circuit held that the district court had erred in concluding that Ahmed had not presented evidence of discrimination and harassment sufficient to meet the threshold for a hostile work environment claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). As such, the court vacated the lower court’s granting of summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial.

Ahmed, who is originally from Egypt and immigrated to the U.S. in 2001, is a practicing Muslim woman and wears a hijab as part of her religious observance. In 2013, Ahmed interviewed for a quality control analyst position at Astoria Bank, a Long Island City­-based bank serving the New York metropolitan area, and was hired, conditional upon a 90-day probationary period. But, she alleges, Astoria Bank discriminated against her based on her race, religion, and national origin beginning as early as the day of her interview, when Anthony Figeroux, a Vice President at the bank, told her that she and two other Middle Eastern employees were “suspicious” and that he was glad he was “in the other side of the building in case you guys do anything.”

Lev Craig

On September 21, 2016, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Southern District of Alabama’s decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in which the district court held that an employer’s policy prohibiting employees from having dreadlocks did not constitute race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).

In May 2010, Chastity Jones, who is Black and wears her hair in dreadlocks, completed an online employment application for a customer service representative position at Catastrophe Management Solutions (CMS), an insurance claims processing company based in Mobile, Alabama, and was selected for an in-person interview. Ms. Jones performed well in her interview, and CMS hired her for the customer service representative position on the spot.

Harrison Paige

In Edwards v. Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, Chris Edwards, a Black man, brought claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), alleging that the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control (“OBN”) refused to promote him to the Agent in Charge (“AIC”) position because of his race. On January 30, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma denied OBN’s motion for summary judgment.

In its motion, OBN argued that Mr. Edwards did not receive the promotion because he (1) was not qualified for the position, and (2) performed poorly during the interview. In response, Plaintiff argued that, with respect to the first point, OBN did not consider qualification in its decision. Mr. Edwards alleged that the OBN division director responsible for hiring for the AIC position, Darrell Weaver, preselects candidates for promotions and holds sham interviews to hide the preselection, thereby making a candidate’s qualifications for the position obsolete. In support, Mr. Edwards alleged that, on previous occasions, Mr. Weaver had sent employees through “chief school” before those employees had been promoted to the “chief” position; Mr. Weaver then held interviews with those two employees for the chief role and, unsurprisingly, chose them for the job.

Yarelyn Mena and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Women of color are leaving large firms at an alarming rate. According to the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (the”Commission”), 85 percent of minority female attorneys in the United States leave large firms within seven yeas of hiring. This high attrition rate is largely due to the unique problems that women of color face at large law firms.

The Commission’s research concludes that women of color leave lucrative large firm jobs because they feel forced out due to discrimination, isolation and constant microaggressions. In 2003, it found that “in both law firms and corporate legal departments, women of color receive less compensation than men and white women; are denied equal access to significant assignments, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities; receive fewer promotions; and have the highest rate of attrition.” These problems force women of color to leave big law, resulting in the same problems for future generations, causing perpetual underrepresentation.

Lucie Rivière and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On Wednesday, March 2, 2016, The Harman Firm, LLP published the first part of its three-part article titled Microaggressions. The second part, which follows below, discusses practical examples of microaggressions and their impact on those subjected to them.

Microaggressions are hidden messages that are sent: (i) verbally (“You speak good English” to Latino or Asian coworker, suggesting that Latino and Asian Americans, because of their ethnicity, are foreigners and not ‘real Americans,’ regardless of their birth place); (ii) nonverbally (clutching one’s purse more tightly when a black man passes on the sidewalk, conveying the belief that Black people are prone to crime and are “up to no good”) and; (iii) environmentally (using American Indian mascots during football games, suggesting that American Indians are savages or otherwise outsiders and demeaning their culture and traditions).

Lucie Rivière and Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On February 16, 2016, in Barella v. Village of Freeport, a bench of three Second Circuit judges—one white American, one Puerto Rican, and another black of Haitian decent—decided what it meant to be “Hispanic.” Judge José A. Cabranes, writing for the Court, held that under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII, “race” included ethnicity. As such, the Second Circuit denied the Defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law (the case, however, was remanded on other grounds) and confirmed that discrimination claims based on Hispanic ancestry may proceed as race claims under these statutes.

In 2009, the Village of Freeport elected Andrew Hardwick (African-American) as its mayor. Once in office, Mayor Hardwick sought to replace the Freeport Police Department’s all-white “command staff” with officers who would help him “achieve his vision of community unity.” The racial makeup of Freeport is 42.5% Hispanic, 30.9% African American, and 23.6% white.

Yarelyn Mena

On December 22, 2015, the California Northern District Court denied Defendant Recology San Francisco’s (“Recology”) motion for summary judgment against its former employee, Daryle Washington, who alleged that Recology discriminated against him based on his race.

On December 10, 2013, Mr. Washington, a material handler for Recology, saw his white co-worker, Jon Peralta, take a noose from the sorting line and place it on the backpack of another black employee, Greg Foster, as if to put it around someone’s neck. Mr. Washington immediately complained of the incident to his superior, Joseph Damele. The following day, Mr. Peralta was suspended without pay pending an investigation, which concluded that his conduct warranted a five-day suspension. Mr. Damele informed all material handlers on Mr. Peralta’s shift of the suspension, emphasizing the company’s “zero tolerance for harassment.”

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On September 2, 2015, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided Vega v. Hempstead Union Free School District, et al., an employment-discrimination case bringing claims under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In an opinion written by Judge Denny Chin, the court held that claims of retaliation for complaining of discrimination are actionable under § 1983, vacating a prior Eastern District of New York ruling on the matter.

Section 1983 provides a federal cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another person of any constitutional or federal statutory rights, creating a vehicle by which a plaintiff may enforce existing federal rights denied by a state or local government. In the context of employment discrimination, § 1983 provides a private right of action for violations of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities” by a state or local government and its officials.

Yarelyn Mena

In April 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigated allegations that approximately 1,000 female and minority New York City administrative managers earned less than their white, male counterparts and received fewer promotions. “Pay gap” problems have long plagued New York City; although former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg put New York City’s current salary and promotion policies in place, the EEOC believes that “structural and historical problems” have prolonged the pay gap for women and minorities long before Bloomberg’s time. The EEOC investigation covered a total of six years, from 2009 to the present.

The EEOC’s investigation found that female and minority employees’ “rate of pay is much less than [those of] their white male counterparts in similarly situated jobs and titles.” As such, the EEOC recommended that the City pay a total of $246 million in back wages and damages, as well as begin to develop solutions to prevent future discrimination. Should the City refuse to negotiate, the EEOC made clear that it will file a lawsuit.