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A federal appeals court overturned a lower court and reinstated retaliation charges filed by a fired steelworker whose employer searched his personal cellphone.
Joseph Canada, a Black man who worked for Bensalem, Pennsylvania-based Samuel Grossi & Sons Inc. for 10 years, had filed suit against the company in April 2019, charging race discrimination, retaliation and a hostile work environment, according to the ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in Joseph Canada v. Samuel Grossi & Sons, Inc.
In July 2019, while Mr. Canada was on vacation, the company claimed the lockers on the shop floor needed to be moved and cut the padlock off his locker and searched it.
Alleging she believed the phone she found may have been a company phone, a company official found messages from more than a year earlier in which Mr. Canada allegedly appeared to have solicited sex from prostitutes during work hours. He was immediately terminated.
Mr. Canada, who said he had not solicited prostitutes, amended his previously filed complaint to allege that his termination was in retaliation for his earlier complaint, in violation of several federal laws.
The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia granted Grossi summary judgment, dismissing Mr. Canada’s claims. A three-judge appeals court panel reinstated his retaliation claims.
Citing an earlier case, the panel said there is a “‘convincing mosaic’ of circumstantial evidence, which, when taken as a whole and viewed in a light favorable to Canada’s case, could convince a reasonable jury that he was the victim of unlawful retaliation,” the ruling said.
A jury is more likely to view the search “as indicative of looking for something that would justify firing Canada rather than trying to figure out if it was a company phone,” it said, in reinstating Mr. Canada’s retaliation claims and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Attorneys in the case had no comment or did not respond to a request for comment.