The Lincoln Public Schools District has agreed to pay $315,000 a claim brought by its former Metco director who alleged that the District retaliated against her by eliminating her position against after she protested unfair discipline meted out to two students of color. The employee Christina Horner alleged that she complained to Superintendent Michael Brandmeyer after two black students were punished more harshly for pulling down each other's pants than a white student was for the same conduct. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination reportedly found probable cause for the allegations in July.
The large settlement is yet another lesson for employers about the dangers of retaliating against an employee - or taking any action that appears to retaliatory - who protests a policy or practice that the employee believes is discriminatory. Such retaliation claims are far easier to prove than traditional discrimination claims because there is no need to prove that the employer had "discriminatory animus" - i.e. ill-will toward a protected class - but only that the employer was upset against about an employee who complained about something that he or she believed was discriminatory, and the employer and took action as a result. Juries seem to understand and believe that employers engage in this this type of retaliation more readily that they believe employers have actual ill-will toward a particular race, gender, religion, etc.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in Flagg v. Alimed, Inc. that an employee could pursue a claim of disability discrimination on the theory that he was terminated due to a family member's disability. The Flagg decision was the first time that an "associational discrimination" claim based on disability was recognized under state law in Massachusetts.
Last week, a federal judge in Boston refused to extend Flagg and the associational discrimination to claims involving advocacy on behalf of disabled persons. The plaintiff in Perez v. Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical School District was a special education teacher who alleged that she was terminated due to her support for her disabled students. Judge Dennis Saylor reasoned that associational discrimination cases like Flagg generally involved a familial relation between the plaintiff and handicapped person. Moreover, Judge Saylor explained that the plaintiff claimed that she was terminated due to her advocacy, but not did not claim that she was subjected to the same "prejudices, stereotypes, and unfounded fear" that marks discrimination against disabled persons.