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RACE DISCRIMINATION CASE MOVES FORWARD TO TRIAL

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey recently denied the parties cross-motions for summary judgment in the case Reginald L. Cannon v. Bradbury Burial Vault Co., Inc. In this case, the plaintiff, Mr. Cannon, alleges that he was subjected to race discrimination and a hostile work environment discrimination.

Mr. Cannon filed partial summary judgment for racial harassment in violation of Title VII, 42. U.S.C. 2000e, et. seq. as a result of being subjected to a racially hostile work environment at his employment with Bradbury Burial. The defendant, Bradbury Burial, opposed Mr. Cannon’s motion for partial summary judgment m and cross-moved for summary judgment claiming that Mr. Cannon failed to show that the racial discrimination complained of was pervasive and severe and that Bradbury Burial has no respondeat superior liability in the case.

Mr. Cannon’s allegations include numerous events of race discrimination taking place from 2004 through 2009. The incidents complained of primarily involved two co-workers of Mr. Cannon, who called Mr. Cannon racially derogatory names such as “black bastard,” “jigaboo,” “dumb black people” and “nigger”. Mr. Cannon does not allege that any managers or supervisors engaged in any racially harassing conduct. In 2006, Mr. Cannon and one of the co-workers had a physical altercation as a result of the co-worker stating to Mr. Cannon, “f*ck you ‘nigger’. It was also alleged that Mr. Cannon referred to the co-worker as a “spic”. This incident resulted in Mr. Cannon and the co-worker being issued warnings from their supervisor. In 2007, Mr. Cannon complained to his supervisors after learning that co-workers had referred to him as a “coon.” In the summer of 2007, Mr. Cannon got into another physical altercation with a co-worker who called Mr. Cannon a ‘nigger’ during the altercation. In 2009, Mr. Cannon complained about co-workers referring to hip hop music as “jungle music”.

In order to establish a prima facie claim for a hostile work environment based upon race, a Plaintiff must establish that the complained-of conduct:
1. would not have occurred but for the employee’s race;
2. that it was severe or pervasive enough to make;
3. a reasonable person of the same race of the employee believe that;
4. the conditions of employment have been altered and the working environment is hostile or abusive.

The Honorable District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle denied both the motions for summary judgment by finding there are genuine issues of material fact with regard to the following:
1. Whether the discriminatory acts were severe or pervasive;
2. Whether Bradbury Burial provided a reasonable avenue of complaint to Mr. Cannon;
3. Whether Bradbury Burial’s response to Mr. Cannon’s complaints were prompt and appropriate under the circumstances; and
4. Whether the union’s policy which permitted employees to grieve their complaints of harassment to the union was sufficient to provide Bradbury Burial with an affirmative defense to respondeat superior liability.

As a result of the court’s decision, this case will proceed to trial unless the parties can come to a settlement.