Personal Conflict Becomes National Origin Claim

By Bill Wright

Even a personal conflict can become a discrimination claim.  Two bus line employees had an off-work conflict.  Dominic had an affair with Enio’s wife.  When Enio found out and obtained a divorce, Dominic married Enio’s ex-wife.  Thereafter, Enio complained several times to Human Resources that Dominic was bringing this personal conflict to work, harassing and threatening him.  Enio did not mention that Dominic was calling him “spic” and “Taco Bell.”  Dominic also complained that Enio was threatening him.  The Vice President of Human Resources looked into the complaints and expressed his concern about the ongoing hostility over “problems in [their] personal home lives.”

Four years after the conflict started, Enio filed a Charge of Discrimination, alleging an “old boys club” of Italian American descent was conspiring to get him fired.  Enio still did not mention any ethnic slurs.

Nevertheless, Enio’s lawsuit will have to go to trial.  Enio gave evidence about extensive bullying and physical harassment – possibly included in the previous internal complaints – and also stated that he heard Dominic call him “spic” three times and “Taco Bell” “anywhere from ‘[e]very time’ he pulled into the garage to ‘about five’ times.”  Other witnesses verified that similar terms were used outside Enio’s hearing as well.

The employer must have felt blind sided.  The use of ethnic slurs added an element of discrimination to what Human Resources had thought was conflict over a romantic triangle.  Now the employer will have to rely on the thoroughness of HR’s investigation to convince the Court that it was not negligent in responding to Enio’s complaints. Rivera v. Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, No. 11-762-cv (2d Cir. December 21, 2012)

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