Discrimination suit by former juvenile detention center officer can move forward, judge rules

Jon Campisi Mar. 20, 2012, 6:51am

A federal judge in Philadelphia has ruled that a former detention officer who worked for an area juvenile facility can move forward with his lawsuit against his former employer, which alleges that the man was fired from his job of six years for discriminatory reasons.

In his ruling, which was dated March 16, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell denied a motion to dismiss that had been filed by the Delaware County Juvenile Detention Center.

The center had moved to dismiss a complaint filed by Harlan I. Johnson on the grounds that Johnson’s claims are predicated upon the allegedly more favorable treatment of a younger, white employee who was not similarly situated to Johnson.

Johnson, who is black, worked for the defendant as a juvenile detention officer from mid-June 1994 until his termination in January 2010.

Johnson’s suit claims that his firing violated the federal Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

According to information contained within the judicial ruling, Johnson’s lawsuit claims that the conduct of black employees has been closely scrutinized than that of white employees, treatment that dates back to the late 1990s, when the detention center received a new director.

The complaint alleges that since that time, there have been disproportionate and disparate terminations and other disciplinary actions taken against African-American staff members at the center.

Johnson was initially fired from his job back in mid-May 2006, allegedly for abandoning his post. The firing was appealed, however, by Johnson’s union, and he received his job back after a state judge ordered the termination reversed.

Johnson was again terminated on January 19, 2010 for violating center policies; specifically, Johnson was accused of bringing a cell phone to work and making personal calls while on duty.

Johnson alleged that similar actions by white employees were tolerated.

Johnson’s union again filed a grievance, and a Delaware County Court of Common Pleas judge sitting as an arbitrator issued a ruling upholding the termination.

Johnson received a right-to-sue notice from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on March 17.

Based on the allegations that whites were treated differently than blacks at the detention center, Dalzell ruled that Johnson has succeeded in stating a civil rights claim, allowing the former detention center officer’s suit to move forward.

“With respect to his cellular phone use, Johnson’s allegation that white employees were not disciplined for similar conduct raises an inference of discrimination,” the judge’s ruling states.

The judge also ruled that Johnson succeeded in stating a claim with respect to his allegations that the defendant violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act considering Johnson’s age at the time of his firing in relationship to the age of other detention center workers.

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