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Federal Court Dismisses Race Discrimination and Retaliation Claims Against KM&M Client

March 7, 2002

A federal court in Manhattan recently granted summary judgment in favor of KM&M's client, a broadcast network, and dismissed a multitude of race discrimination and retaliation claims asserted by a Facilities Department employee who had been laid off and subsequently recalled to work.

Plaintiff was one of three Engineers laid off in the aftermath of a corporate merger. In the course of the grievance process under the applicable collective bargaining agreement, the employer agreed to reinstate Plaintiff to a different position. Although Plaintiff accepted the new job, he objected to various aspects of his treatment. Ultimately, Plaintiff filed suit in federal court, alleging (among other things) that he was laid off because of his race, that he received less favorable severance terms than a non-minority employee (unlike the other employee, Plaintiff was required to repay a portion of his severance upon his rehire), that he was subjected to retaliation because of his earlier complaints of discrimination (in the form of receiving an assignment to a difficult supervisor), and that he was subjected to a racially hostile work environment.

In a lengthy decision that exhaustively analyzed all of these allegations, the Court found that there was insufficient evidence to require a trial as to any of Plaintiff's claims. In support of his layoff claim, Plaintiff asserted that a less senior non-minority engineer was retained when he was laid off; the Court rejected this contention, agreeing with the employer's contention that the retained employee was not an Engineer but worked in a different job category that was governed by a different seniority list pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement. Plaintiff's severance pay claim failed because he and the non-minority employee he cited were not similarly situated: the other employee, unlike Plaintiff, was not rehired until five months after his layoff and he was therefore on layoff status for the entire period for which he received severance. The Court rejected Plaintiff's retaliation claim because the allegedly retaliatory treatment occurred more than two years after his earlier discrimination claim -- a lapse of time that destroyed any inference of a retaliatory motive -- and because the proof overwhelmingly showed that there were legitimate reasons for all of the employer's allegedly retaliatory actions. Finally, with respect to Plaintiff's hostile environment claim, the Court found that none of the actions of which Plaintiff complained rose to the level of actionable harassment and that, in any event, there was no evidence that any of those actions were based on Plaintiff's race.