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Employer can be sued for retaliation

Given some evidence that an employer’s proffered reasons for firing a former employee could be construed as pretextual, a lawsuit alleging that the termination was made in retaliation for the employee’s complaint about workplace racial discrimination can go forward.

While the defendant, Lifespan Corp., claimed that it discharged plaintiff Terick Azeez after reviewing a background report and discovering his drug-related convictions, Azeez contended the real reason he was let go was due to his complaint to human resources concerning his supervisor’s alleged discriminatory conduct.

Azeez’s evidence to that effect included the temporal proximity of the relevant events, with the timing of his termination coming soon after he made his complaint.

Moreover, while Lifespan claimed that the plaintiff’s criminal history automatically disqualified him from employment, the company’s written policy on conviction records, in the words of U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy, “calls for a more nuanced approach” that takes many factors into account.

In denying the defendant’s request for summary judgment on the Title VII retaliation claim, McElroy noted that “[t]here remains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Lifespan’s Background Check Adjudication Policy would have required the automatic termination of an employee with a record such as this one.”

McElroy also ruled that Azeez could sue Lifespan under the Fair Credit Reporting Act since the company relied on negative information in his criminal background check without first providing Azeez with a pre-adverse action notice and an opportunity to respond as the federal statute requires.

She rebuffed Lifespan’s argument that since the details in the report were accurate, Azeez did not suffer any actual injury as a result of the FCRA notice misstep and therefore lacked standing to bring the action.