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Racial bias lawsuit revived for sewer worker


An appeals court has reinstated a retaliation lawsuit filed by a District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority worker who said he was terminated in retaliation for complaining about racial discrimination.

Anthony S. Harris began work at the authority in September 1995 as a systems operations manager and during that time made “significant contributions” to its maintenance operations, according to Tuesday's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Anthony S. Harris v. District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority.

Around 2009, Mr. Harris and other authority employees began to notice the authority was terminating a “significant number” of black employees and replacing them with white employees, according to the ruling.

Mr. Harris wrote a letter to then-District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray about the issue in January 2011, and another letter to the committee of the District of Columbia City Council with oversight authority over the water and sewer authority in February 2011, complaining of the situation.

On Oct. 6, 2011, Mr. Harris took a leave of absence to undergo surgery for chronic kidney failure and informed the authority on Oct. 11 he would be unable to return to work until Oct. 26, according to the ruling.

On Oct. 13, the authority informed him his position had been abolished and did not provide him with the opportunity to apply for other vacant positions for which he might qualify, according to the ruling.

Mr. Harris filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charging retaliation for opposing the authority's alleged racially discriminatory practices in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, among other charges.

The District Court dismissed the case, stating his complaint “failed to sufficiently allege a causal connection” between the letters and his termination.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit unanimously disagreed. In addition to the temporal proximity between the letters and his termination, Mr. Harris had been regularly commended for his work and, furthermore, his position's functions continued, said the ruling.

Mr. Harris' complaint “alleged facts that, if known, may be enough to make out not only a prima facie case of retaliation, but also a case sufficient to survive summary judgment outright,” said the panel in reversing the District Court's dismissal and reinstating Mr. Harris' lawsuit.

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