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Court Revives Worker’s Gay Discrimination Suit

(CN) - A gay man who was fired after complaining that his co-workers taunted him as a "worthless queer" and "Tinkerbell" can sue his ex-employer for retaliatory discharge and hostile work environment, the 9th Circuit ruled on Monday.

Shane Dawson began working on the production line at the Oregon-based Entek International, which manufactures polyethylene battery separators, in 2007.

Knowing that Dawson was gay, co-workers began harassing Dawson on a daily basis, calling him a "worthless queer," "Tinkerbell" and other derogatory names, according to the ruling.

Dawson complained to his trainer, Troy Guzon, about the harassment, and Guzon said he would talk to a supervisor. About a month later Dawson took a day off of work because of the stress caused by the negative work environment. When he returned to work the next day, Dawson complained to Entek's human resources representative, Susan Morch, and asked to file a complaint. Two days later, Dawson was fired for failing to use the proper call-in procedures, according to the ruling.

Dawson sued Entek in Oregon District Court alleging claims for retaliatory discharge, sex hostile work environment, sexual orientation hostile work environment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken granted summary judgment to Entek, but the three-judge appeals panel in Portland reversed.

"Dawson engaged in protected activity when he visited Morch in human resources to discuss his treatment and file a complaint," Judge David Bury wrote for the panel. "This was a complaint to human resources staff based directly on sexual orientation discrimination. Less than 48 hours later, he was terminated from employment. Dawson had already addressed Guzon earlier in his employment about the sexual orientation discrimination he was experiencing."

Bury added that the timing of Dawson's firing created an issue of fact that should have precluded summary judgment.

"Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Dawson, the protected activity occurred at most two days before the discharge and the treatment of Dawson was a topic during both the protected activity and the discharge, as explained by the supervisor and human resources person who fired him," he wrote. "The gravity of Dawson's complaints coupled with the time frame are such that a reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of Dawson on his retaliation claim. The district court erred in resolving this claim by summary judgment."

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