An employment discrimination case returns to county Judge Barbara Wallace's courtroom this week following an appeals decision that reversed her original ruling.
Wallace granted American Airlines summary judgment more than a year ago in its defense of a discrimination lawsuit from a former employee who claimed he was improperly terminated under a company policy regulating "hate-related behavior. "
Lamonte Young worked as a fleet service clerk for American Airlines for seven years until his October 2002 dismissal.
His termination stemmed from an Oct. 9, 2002, incident in the employee break room, where Young was approached by two co-workers who wanted to use the company telephone he was using for a personal call.
According to court documents, one of the co-workers said, "Hang up the (expletive) phone. " Young responded by calling the co-worker a "punk gay" and a "faggot. " Written reports of the incident claimed Young also made threatening gestures with the phone, as if he meant to strike the co-worker.
Young claimed during this altercation, the co-workers used the term "black ass" and the "N word. "
When a supervisor became involved, she reprimanded one of the co-workers and fired Young on the basis of his threatening gesture with the phone and his use of the term "faggot. "
Young filed a complaint with his union representative, and an arbitration hearing was held. Arbitrators denied his claim and sided with American Airlines. Young then filed a lawsuit in St. Louis County Circuit Court under the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Wallace denied American Airlines' first motion for summary judgment but granted a second motion to dismiss the case. She offered no written explanation of her decision.
The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District took up Young's appeal and issued its reversal of Wallace's decision in December 2005.
American Airlines had not sufficiently proved that it was justified in punishing Young more severely for the incident than the two other employees, appellate Judge Kenneth M. Romines wrote. Judges George W. Draper III and Gary M. Gaertner concurred.
"We believe Young's allegations that (the two employees) used words that ... would be highly offensive ... to any African-American," the decision said.
The case had several issues that a jury must decide, Romines wrote.
Young's attorney Lee Clayton Goodman agreed.
"It's been a long three years trying to get the matter before a jury," Goodman said. "We're comfortable once the matter is presented to a jury of (Young's) peers, people not associated with American Airlines, they will make the correct decision. "
The facts are clear, he said.
"Our client was fired, and two people charged with the same offense weren't fired," he said. "The only reason we think he was treated differently was because he was African-American. "
Goodman said after the appeals decision was handed down, he tried to have the case moved to a different judge because Wallace's handling of the case "indicated she was biased. "
He said Wallace denied his motion and refused to recuse herself from the matter.
David H. Luce, attorney for American Airlines, did not respond to calls for comment.
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