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Race and age bias suit against Washington Post reinstated

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A federal appeals court has reinstated a race and age discrimination lawsuit filed by a fired Washington Post ad salesman, stating his supervisor’s behavior could be considered “mendacious.”

David DeJesus, a black ad salesman who was 59 at the time of his termination, had worked at the Washington Post for more than 18 years when he was terminated in August 2011, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in David DeJesus v. WP Co. L.L.C., doing business as the Washington Post.

In 2011, one of Mr. Dejesus’ accounts, Northbrook, Illinois-based Allstate Insurance Co., asked for a study of an ad it had run. Mr. DeJesus’ white supervisor, Noelle Wainwright, was on vacation at the time, so he ordered the study himself.

According to court records, Ms. Wainwright initially told him that while she should clear future such requests, there were “no worries” on the issue. She then told him he should deliver the study to the “client” in person, but did not specify to whom, according to Mr. DeJesus. She later testified she meant a particular Allstate official.

Instead, Mr. DeJesus delivered the study to another official, Allstate’s vice president of federal regulatory affairs, who reported directly to Allstate’s chairperson. Ms. Wainwright subsequently described the vice president as a “local client contact with no advertising decision-making ability or budgetary oversight.”

Mr. DeJesus was terminated on the basis of “willful neglect of duty and insubordination,” according to Ms. Wainwright’s subsequent termination memo. He filed suit against the newspaper, charging it with age and race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Age Discrimination Act of 1967.

The U.S. District Court in Washington granted the Post summary judgment dismissing the case. A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit unanimously overturned the ruling.

In addition to Ms. Wainwright initially stating there were no worries about his handling of the issue, “a jury could properly conclude that the Washington Post’s proffered reason (for Mr. DeJesus’ termination) is so unreasonable that it provokes suspicion of pretext,” said the ruling.

Characterizations in the termination memo “offer an account of Dejesus’ actions that a reasonable jury could find misleading, even mendacious,” said the ruling.

“In sum, a jury could conclude that Wainwright’s ‘no worries reaction’ demonstrated” that the unauthorized study “was not a big deal, her interpretation of DeJesus’s actions as insubordination was so unreasonable that it could not be honestly held, and her shaded characterization” of the person to whom Mr. DeJesus sent the study “suggests an overall lack of forthrightness,” said the ruling.

Turning to his racial discrimination charges, the ruling says also that Ms. Wainwright was allegedly “edgy” and “condescending” to Mr. DeJesus as compared to his white colleagues.

“Likewise a reasonable jury could conclude that, but for the fact that DeJesus was 59 years old, he would not have been terminated,” said the appeals court ruling, in reversing the grant of summary judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings.