Florida Federal Court Declines to Dismiss Racial Discrimination Case Brought By Correctional Officer

Florida and federal laws prohibit employer discrimination based upon an employee’s race. Additionally, should an employee engage in activity to oppose discrimination, it is unlawful to retaliate against that employee. While it is possible for an employer to successfully refute claims of discrimination and retaliation, a recent holding by a United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida allowed a plaintiff’s claims to continue.

In the case, the plaintiff, a state correctional officer in Florida, sued her former employer, alleging that the institution engaged in racial discrimination and retaliation based upon her complaints of discrimination. These allegations in Neal-Meyers v. Florida Department of Corrections stemmed from several incidents at work during the final year of the plaintiff’s employment at the correctional facility. The plaintiff described a workplace environment in which white employees were treated more favorably than African-Americans. The plaintiff cited a meeting in which she was reprimanded for work performance, while her supervisor made complaints about African-Americans using terms such as “you people” and “people like you.”

The plaintiff and other African-American correctional officers were later told that they could no longer gather together to converse. When the plaintiff voiced concerns that the employment actions were racially motivated, she was transferred to a different work location. Another African-American employee was terminated, allegedly because of her racial discrimination complaints.

The plaintiff continued to work for the correctional institution but filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approximately five months after the initial events. She also filed a grievance. Shortly thereafter, she was notified that her employment was being terminated.

The correctional facility sought to have several of the allegations contained in the plaintiff’s complaint dismissed because she failed to sufficiently state a claim under the law. First, the defendant argued that the plaintiff could not show that her termination was causally related to her complaints of discrimination. The court set forth the necessary requirements for a federal claim for retaliation. Under Title VII, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an adverse employment action that was causally related to statutorily protected activity. The fact that the adverse employment action occurred shortly after protected activity may be used to show the two events were related, even in the absence of other facts establishing causation. However, the time interval between the two events must be sufficiently brief, less than even three months.

In this case, since the court found that the plaintiff set forth allegations of causation, despite a longer timeframe, it declined to dismiss the claim of retaliation. Likewise, the court held that the plaintiff had adequately alleged retaliatory conduct as a result of her filing of a grievance against her former employer. The court determined that the plaintiff had been terminated after she filed a grievance. Furthermore, according to the court, the grievance process constituted protected activity under the law because the plaintiff used it to communicate her claims of discrimination.

If you or someone you know has experienced workplace discrimination or retaliation, you may have a claim for damages. The Southwest Florida employment attorneys at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano are skilled in resolving all types of employment disputes. Our lawyers can discuss the facts of your case and help you to take the next step. Contact us online or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.

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