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Media Alerts - Atron Castleberry v. STI Group - Third Circuit
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July 17, 2017
  Atron Castleberry v. STI Group - Third Circuit
Headline: "Pervasive or Severe" is the Appropriate Legal Standard for a Harassment Claim; An Isolated Incident Can Give Rise to a Harassment or Retaliation Claim.

Area of Law: Employment Discrimination

Issue(s) Presented: Was "pervasive and regular" the appropriate standard to apply to a racial harassment claim? Is an isolated incident of discrimination sufficient to be considered "severe"? Can one incident be sufficient to bring a retaliation claim? Can a claim of disparate impact discrimination be brought under § 1981?

Brief Summary:
Castleberry and Brown filed claims under § 1981 for racially-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in their workplace. The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the harassment claim, finding that the District Court applied the wrong legal standard and that the Plaintiffs satisfied the correct "severe or pervasive" standard. The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's dismissal of the disparate treatment claim because appropriate burden-shifting framework was not implemented. Defendants did not meet their burden of proof to overcome Plaintiffs' allegations. The Court reversed the dismissal of the retaliation claim, finding that an isolated incident is sufficient to bring claim under § 1981. The Third Circuit did not remand for Plaintiffs' amended disparate impact claim because the claim cannot be brought under § 1981.

Extended Summary:

Atron Castleberry and John Brown were hired by STI Group to work as general laborers for Chesapeake Energy Corporation. During their employment, Appellants claim multiple instances where they were harassed or discriminated against based on their race. They claim that they were not permitted to work on the pipelines, even though they had sufficient work experience. They also reported the use of offensive language and racial comments made towards them. After reporting an incident to a superior, Castleberry and Brown were terminated, rehired, and then terminated again. The reasoning that STI Group gave for their termination was "lack of work." Castleberry and Brown filed a suit against STI and Chesapeake claiming racially-based harassment, discrimination, and retaliation under 42 U.S.C § 1981.

The Third Circuit reversed the District Court's decision to dismiss the harassment claim because the District Court used the "pervasive and regular" standard when assessing the harassment claim. In order to prevail on a harassment claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the discrimination was severe or pervasive. Due to conflicting precedent, the District Court applied the incorrect standard when assessing the Plaintiffs' harassment claim. The Third Circuit clarified that "severe or pervasive" is the correct standard and that one incident can be sufficient to state a claim. The racially charged slurs, as well as threats of termination, were enough to bring a harassment claim.

The Court reversed the District Court's decision to dismiss the Plaintiff's claim under disparate treatment discrimination. Plaintiffs brought allegations of undesirable work assignments due to their race, as well as termination because of their race. The Third Circuit ruled that these allegations were sufficient to satisfy the elements of a discrimination claim. The District Court erred in dismissing before Defendants had satisfied their burden of demonstrating nondiscriminatory reasons for the incidents that occurred.

The Third Circuit also reversed the District Court's dismissal of the retaliation claim because the District Court was relying on the incorrect reasoning that an isolated discriminatory remark would not satisfy the "pervasive and regular" standard. Under the correct "severe or pervasive" standard, an isolated incident is sufficient to bring a claim and can amount to unlawful activity. Due to this incorrect application, the Third Circuit found that Plaintiffs could bring a retaliation claim under the premise that one discriminatory remark could amount to unlawful activity.

While the District Court did not address the Plaintiffs' claim of disparate impact discrimination, the Third Circuit found that remand was unnecessary because a claim of disparate impact cannot be brought under § 1981. The Court determined that § 1981 was enacted to provide recourse for purposeful and intentional discrimination claims and does not support claims brought under a theory of disparate impact.

The Third Circuit reversed and remanded the District Court's decision in regards to Plaintiffs' harassment, disparate treatment discrimination, and retaliation claims.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/163131p.pdf

Panel: Ambro, Vanaskie, and Restrepo, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: March 28, 2017

Date of Issued Opinion: July 14, 2017

Docket Number: No. 16-3131

Decided: Reversed and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Kristina Flatley

Counsel: David Horowitz and Richard Swartz, Counsel for Appellant; Terri Patak, Daniel Brier, and Donna Walsh, Counsel for Appellees.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Ambro

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 07/17/2017 04:33 PM     3rd Circuit  

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