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High court bias ruling cited in employment case

King County

Citing a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a discrimination case, a federal appeals court has reinstated discrimination and retaliation charges filed by a worker for a Washington county.

Claude Brown had contended that Seattle-based King County had discriminated against him on the basis of race by rejecting his applications for a rail supervisor-in-training position in 2012 and 2014 promotion cycles and by removing him from an acting technical trainer position, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco..

In Claude Brown v. King County the worker also alleged that the county had retaliated against him for filing discrimination and retaliation complaints with King County’s office of civil rights, according to the ruling.

The U.S. District Court in Seattle granted King County summary judgment dismissing the case. 

On appeal, the 9th Circuit deferred submission of the case pending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media.

In that case, the high court unanimously held that the 9th Circuit had used the wrong test in assessing comedian-turned-media entrepreneur Byron Allen’s $20 billion racial bias lawsuit against Comcast.

“To prevail, a plaintiff must initially plead and ultimately prove that, but for race, it would not have suffered,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said in the ruling.

In reinstating Mr. Browns discrimination claim, a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel said, “Brown has shown that he is a member of a protected class, that he applied and was qualified for the RSIT position and the ATT position, that he was repeatedly rejected for the RSIT position and that he was prematurely removed from the ATT position despite his work satisfactorily.”

The ruling said his union’s former president allegedly told him that King County would never hire a supervisor “with braids.” It said Mr. Brown and several other minority employees were allegedly told they were not qualified to test for the 2011 RSIT position and also that he was not qualified to be trained for the 2012 RSIT position despite finishing fourth in the testing behind the top three candidates.

The ruling also said his 2014 RSIT application was denied on the ground that it was incomplete, even though he had previously submitted the same application and it had not been denied on that basis before. 

“Several other minority rail operators submitted declarations that King County’s hiring system were properly rigged on the basis of race,” the ruling said also, in reinstating Mr. Brown’s discrimination claim.

Mr. Brown has also stated a prima facie case of retaliation, said the ruling, in reinstating that claim.

Attorneys in the case could not be reached for comment