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Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
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Circuit Revives Workers’ Retaliation Claims

(CN) - Three social workers can sue their boss for allegedly sabotaging their work and forcing them to work undesirable shifts after they cooperated in a racial discrimination investigation against him, the 2nd Circuit ruled.

Dwight Hicks, Antonio Melendez and James Smith worked in two residential youth homes in Buffalo, N.Y.

In 1997 they backed up a white co-worker's claim that their black supervisor, Tommy Baines, discriminated against him. Baines allegedly referred to the employee as "White Boy," "That White Motherf--ker," "That F--king White Boy" and "White Cracker Motherf--ker."

He encouraged Hicks, Melendez and Smith -- all minorities -- to band together against the "White Boy" and discredit him, according to the previous racial bias complaint.

When Baines found out that the three men had cooperated in the discrimination investigation, he allegedly told staff members that he would find out who "ratted" on him and "take care" of those people.

The workers sued, claiming Baines followed through on that threat by drumming up reasons to berate and discipline them, making "punitive" schedule changes, distributing false memos and calling them names, among other forms of retaliation.

U.S. District Judge Curtin ruled for Baines on all claims, saying the evidence didn't amount to a "meaningful change" in the plaintiffs' work conditions.

The Manhattan-based appeals court reinstated one claim of workplace sabotage and several punitive scheduling claims, and affirmed dismissal of the rest.

The sabotage claim accused Baines of deliberately leaving a window ajar to prevent the plaintiffs from setting a security alarm, and then reprimanding them for not activating the alarm.

For those surviving claims, "plaintiffs' evidence is sufficient both to survive summary judgment and to satisfy the third element of their prima facie burden of showing an adverse employment action," Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote.

Judge Jose Cabranes joined the panel decision. Newly elected Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, formerly a panel judge, did not participate in the decision.

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