New Jersey Federal Court Allows Race, National Origin Discrimination Lawsuit to Proceed

AtlanticCityAirport.pngA federal judge in New Jersey recently denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging race and national origin discrimination. A former employee, who worked for nearly two decades as a contract employee for a federal agency, is claiming that the agency wrongfully failed to hire him for a permanent position. Suri v. Fox, et al., No. 1:13-cv-05036, 2nd am. complaint (D.N.J., Apr. 16, 2014). After the defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit, the court ruled that the plaintiff had made a prima facie case for race and national origin discrimination. This means that the case may proceed, and that the burden shifts to the defendants to show a non-discriminatory basis for their actions.

The plaintiff, who is originally from India, became a U.S. citizen in 1992. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in environmental engineering. He began working for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a summer intern in 1995. During the internship, he states that he asked about a permanent position but was told that a hiring freeze prevented the FAA from offering him a permanent job. He accepted a contract position with H-Tec Systems, an FAA contractor, when his internship ended in September 1995. He continued working on site at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey for 13 years. In 2008, he took a job with another contractor, EIT, that kept him in the same place.

According to his complaint, the plaintiff worked with FAA employees on a daily basis, had an office cubicle at the FAA facility, and used office equipment, supplies, and furniture provided by the FAA. The details of his employment, including work assignments, discipline, and leave, were under the control of FAA supervisors. He claims that he continued to ask about a permanent position and was still told about a hiring freeze. The supervisor who cited the hiring freeze, however, allegedly hired several Caucasian employees with lesser qualifications than the plaintiff to permanent positions during this time period. At various other times, the plaintiff claims that employees with lesser qualifications and less seniority than him, all Caucasians, were placed in positions over him.

The plaintiff describes his job at the FAA facility as involving a substantial amount of responsibility, but he claims that other people at work, including both co-workers and managers, often made derogatory remarks regarding his Indian heritage. He alleges that he began having problems with blood pressure and chest pain because of the stress caused by this treatment. He filed a formal complaint against one employee in June 2012, which he claims led to retaliation by two supervisors. When EIT’s contract was up for renewal in early 2013, he claims that the job requirements “were customized exactly to match with the qualifications of people already working for EIT.” Suri, complaint at 10. In March 2013, the plaintiff states, his job abruptly became “non-key,” and he abruptly lost his job “after providing 18 years of service to the FAA.” Id.

In December 2013, the plaintiff filed suit, claiming discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. The court ruled on the defendants’ motion to dismiss in December 2014. While it granted the motion as to some claims, it allowed many of the key parts of the lawsuit to proceed. It held that the plaintiff stated a prima facie case against the Secretary of Transportation, Anthony R. Foxx, for failure to hire and hostile work environment with regard to his claims of race and national origin discrimination.

If you need to speak to an employment discrimination attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

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Photo credit: Federal Aviation Administration (uploaded by w:en:User:Burgundavia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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