Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Racial discrimination suit against Federal Aviation Administration can proceed, judge rules

WOODBRIDGE — A federal judge has ruled that an independent contractor suing the Federal Aviation Administration alleging racial discrimination has presented enough initial evidence to clear the first hurdle of his suit.

Harish Suri, who is Indian, accused the agency of hiring less experienced white contractors on a permanent basis, while repeatedly refusing to bring him on as a permanent employee.

Under federal law, the burden now shifts to the agency to explain why its actions weren’t discriminatory.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Irenas dismissed Suri’s claims of religious discrimination, retaliation and conspiracy to deprive him of rights and privileges, but held he had made a prima facie case against U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, as the head of the agency, for racial and national origin discrimination.

According to the suit, Suri was employed as an environmental engineer by third-party contractors, doing work for the FAA at the agency’s Egg Harbor location.

Suri claimed in the suit that the racial discrimination dates back nearly two decades, beginning with a summer internship with the FAA in 1995.

Co-workers “used derogatory and humiliating comments,” such as “you people,” “Where do these people come from,” “How do they work in their country,” and “That [expletive] Indian doesn’t know how to do his job.”

Suri, who has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and master’s degrees in engineering science and environmental engineering, said he has been passed over for white workers with lesser degrees. In one instance, the FAA hired a summer intern who he’d trained, according to the suit.

He alleges he was retaliated against after lodging a complaint. His job was reclassified from key personnel to non-key, and ultimately he was terminated.

The judge noted that Suri received positive feedback in the months after he filed his complaint. He also found that Suri didn’t prove causation, and dismissed the retaliation claim.

The FAA had argued Suri wasn’t eligible to file a lawsuit under Title XII, because he was not employed by the agency. But the judge held that for all intents and purposes — Suri worked in an FAA facility with FAA supplies, FAA supervisors approved his vacation time and doled out his work assignments — he was an FAA employee.

The FAA also argued that Suri alleged “isolated workplace comments” and not “severe and pervasive conduct.”

- Original article can be found at:

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