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Federal Court Dismisses Age and Race Discrimination and Retaliation Lawsuit Filed by Laid Off Union Employee

August 18, 2006

On August 16, 2006, Judge Joseph Irenas of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granted KM&M’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing age and race discrimination and retaliation claims brought by an ironworker apprentice who was hired to work on a specific construction project and was eventually laid off for lack of work.  Interestingly, the plaintiff in this case previously filed a similar lawsuit against another KM&M client in a different industry; those claims were also dismissed on summary judgment and the plaintiff’s appeal of that decision to the Court of Appeals was unsuccessful as well.

KM&M’s client in the current case, a construction company based in New Jersey, was the subcontractor for steel erection work on a large construction project in Jersey City.  Plaintiff, a forty-seven year old African-American man, was one of several union apprentices hired and laid off over the course of the project.  As the employer’s work on the project was nearing completion, it laid off several employees, including plaintiff.  Notably, plaintiff had survived several prior layoffs and was one of few remaining apprentices on the job at the time he was terminated.  Moreover, several of the apprentices who were laid off before him were younger than he and were Caucasian.  Nonetheless, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and eventually filed suit in Federal District Court.  Plaintiff alleged that the employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by giving him unfavorable work assignments and poor evaluations because of his race and his age; and by terminating him because of complaints of discriminatory treatment he lodged with his union.

At the conclusion of discovery, the employer moved for summary judgment.  Plaintiff contended that there were numerous factual issues that required a trial.  For example, plaintiff argued that the employer failed to comply with its own affirmative action policy, which he claimed constituted evidence of discrimination against him.  Plaintiff also argued that a negative performance evaluation he received from the employer was actually written by a union official and not by the employer so that the union could justify his termination from the apprenticeship program. 

The court, however, rejected all of these contentions, finding that plaintiff failed to rebut the employer’s legitimate non-discriminatory reason for laying him off.  The court further found that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation because he offered no evidence that the employer knew he complained to the union of discrimination or that there was a causal connection between his complaint of discrimination and his layoff.  Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, dismissing the action in its entirety.