Discrimination Lawsuits In The News

Perhaps the most highly publicized discrimination lawsuit against an employer in recent memory has been the case against Paula Deen, celebrity chef and popular host of cooking shows on the Food Network.  The damage to Ms. Deen had already been done in June before U.S. District Judge William Moore Jr. tossed the claims regarding racism brought by former employee and ex-manager Lisa T. Jackson two months later.  During that time two month period, Deen has been summarily ostracized throughout much of the media, as a result of a deposition transcript being leaked and lost her television shows and several of her endorsement engagements.  Even though the Court tossed her discrimination claim, Judge Moore’s ruling nonetheless noted the racially charged environment wherein the Court stated  “while [Jackson] may have faced significant challenges in managing a workplace allegedly permeated with racial discrimination, her difficulties do not fall within the zone of interests sought to be protected by Title VII and cannot support a claim for racial discrimination under that statute.”


A claim that recently raised eyebrows is the one filed by popular television reporter Brandon Sessoms[g1]  (a.k.a. B. Scott) against BET Networks and Viacom, the owner of the trendy cable television channel.  The complaint states that “B. Scott was told to mute the makeup, pull back his hair and he was forced to remove his clothing and take off his heels; thereby completely changing his gender identity and expression.  BET and Viacom made him feel less than his colleagues and made him feel that something was wrong with him as a person.”  The suit asked for $2.5 million in damages.  BET earlier issued an apology from one of its vice presidents who stated “the incident with B. Scott was a singular one with a series of unfortunate miscommunications from both parties.”  However, Scott has stated that “after a few weeks of back and forth dialogue with no foreseeable resolution, I have filed a lawsuit” Scott said on his website, lovebscott.com. “I’m suing BET and Viacom for a true public apology and to be fairly remunerated for the time lost, humiliation and emotional distress this entire situation has put me through.”


The U.S. Marshals Service has been facing claims by several African-American deputy marshalls that they were denied advancement opportunities that their white co-workers received.  Despite the fact that the lead plaintiff in the claim reached a settlement with the agency, Washington Federal Judge Barbara J. Rothstein ruled that the remaining plaintiffs could proceed with their claims.   The service had argued that they should be forced to seek administrative remedies, which was customarily required for new claims brought against the government.  However, Judge Rothstein noted that the plaintiffs left in the case are covered by the “single-filing rule” which allows parties to join lawsuits by others who have similar claims against the same employer.  She stated “any ruling to the contrary would not only be prejudicial against the additional marshalls, but would defeat the purpose of the single-filing rule by creating an inherent inequality among class representatives.”


A Kentucky appellate court recently ruled that manufacturing vendor Aker Plant Services Group illegally fired a 52-year old electrical designer.  The Court found that the vendor fired Tommy Sharp based on his supervisor’s alleged bias, and not poor job performance as the company argued.  Even though a lower court found that Sharp did not show any evidence that his firing was related to age, comments by his project manager indicated otherwise.  “Discriminatory remarks by decision makers and those who significantly influence the decision-making process can constitute direct evidence of discrimination,” the Sixth Circuit held.  Sharp recorded the project manager allegedly saying, “We’re all going to retire, and I had an opportunity to bring the next generation… in, so that’s what we decided to do.”  The project claimed that he was trying to soften the blow of terminating Sharp, even though he says the reason was due to job performance.  Aker argued that the comments were made while the project manage was on medical leave, and should not have been relevant.   Now, the case is being sent back to the lower court to determine if Aker would have terminated Sharp based on his job performance and not for the alleged age discrimination.


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