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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Suspected Porta Potty Thief Loses Bias Case

GALVESTON, Texas (CN) - A federal judge flushed discrimination claims from a black utility worker who was fired on suspicion that he stole a portable toilet from a public park.

Michael Benson's 14-year employment as a laborer for the utilities department of Texas City, Texas, came to an end in 2009 when a police officer found a city porta potty on a vacant lot that Benson leased for family gatherings and cookouts.

Though a court eventually dismissed misdemeanor theft and nuisance charges against Benson related to the porta potty, he was fired for improper or unauthorized use of city property.

Benson, who is black, claimed that his termination was actually racially motivated and sued Texas City in November 2010.

U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa granted the city summary judgment on Monday.

The 11-page ruling hinges on Benson's failure to show that Texas City was more lenient toward employees in the same situation he faced.

"Benson warns against 'too rigid' an application of the similarly situated requirement," Costa wrote. "Indeed, this court has recognized that flexibility is warranted in this inquiry when all of the factors may not fit a particular workplace."

"But this is a case in which Benson worked for a public employer with a sizeable workforce from which to identify similarly situated employees," Costa added. "His inability to do so means there is no evidence from which a jury could infer that Texas City fired him because of his race."

Earlier this year, Benson filed a second discrimination complaint against the city, Mayor Matthew Doyle and two supervisors. That case remains pending.

Benson is represented by Anthony Griffin of Galveston.

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