A union member’s past criminal conviction proved to be the undoing of his racial discrimination claim, even though his union did not know about the conviction when it rejected him for an organizer position. The California Court of Appeal recently concluded in Horne v. International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Counsel, 16 that the member’s criminal record made him statutorily ineligible for the organizer position he sought. Because of that ineligibility, the applicant could not possibly establish a case of racial discrimination in violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), regardless of the union’s motivation for rejecting him.
The case began after Raymond Horne, an African-American male, twice applied unsuccessfully for an organizer job, in 2009 and 2010, with District Council 16 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, of which Horne was a member. In each instance, the union selected a white applicant to serve as organizer. Thereafter, Horne sued the union, claiming it racially discriminated against him.
During the pre-trial discovery phase of his case, Horne disclosed his having a criminal record. The state convicted him on drug charges in 1997. Horne went to jail but was paroled in 2003. At the time the union chose the white candidates over Horne, it was unaware of Horne’s criminal past.
After learning of the conviction, the union sought summary judgment in the case. The union pointed out that, under federal law, narcotics convictions like Horne’s disqualify candidates from consideration for the organizer job Horne sought. Horne opposed the request, arguing that the union could use his criminal record to justify its actions when it did not know about the conviction when it passed him over.
The trial court and the California Court of Appeal sided with the union. The Court of Appeal explained that California employment discrimination law creates a series of evidentiary hurdles, each of which must be cleared before moving to the next one. Of particular relevance to Horne’s case, the law requires an employment candidate first to demonstrate that he was qualified for the job he sought before the employer must offer any explanation for the basis of its actions. If the candidate is ineligible for the job, the court need not explore the employer’s motives.
The court rejected Horne’s assertion that the conviction was “after-acquired evidence,” and that the law prevented the union from relying on it to defend its rejection of him. The candidate’s argument failed because the union’s conduct was not the deciding issue in the case. Horne was ineligible for the organizer job, and that ineligibility defeated his discrimination claims, regardless of the union’s motives.
Several analyses go into deciding whether to sue one’s employer for discrimination. You must determine if you’re the victim of discrimination. You must also decide if the law permits you to pursue legal action against your employer for that discrimination. These are separate and equally important questions. To obtain honest and knowledgeable advice about whether to take your discrimination matter to court, consult the Oakland employment law attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch offer experienced counsel and diligent representation to victims of workplace discrimination. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.
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