A New Jersey county employee says he was repeatedly subjected to ugly racial harassment at work. He is suing the government entity for failing to protect him from discrimination by co-workers. He also claims he suffered retaliation for filing discrimination complaints and further mistreated when he filed a work injury claim.
If the allegations are proven, it represents a rare trifecta of prohibited behavior and bad faith. Reprisal or willful indifference by an employer can be as hurtful and devastating as the original discrimination.
Government employee suing for discrimination and retaliation
Grady Butts, an employee of Salem County, New Jersey, said the trouble started when he was promoted to truck driver in 2013. According to his lawsuit:
- Co-workers repeatedly made racist remarks, including the N-word and comparisons to an ape. He reported the discrimination to human resources.
- HR did nothing about the harassment. Instead, county officials retaliated against Butts by writing him up for trumped-up “insubordination” and suspending him.
- In 2014 he filed a workers’ compensation claim after suffering a work injury, then aggravated that injury on the job a month later.
- Though his doctor ordered light duty when he returned to work, supervisors ignored the restrictions. He was forced to perform duties that further aggravated his injuries, leading to surgery and an unpaid leave.
- Upon return to work, he was again subjected to pervasive racial harassment by co-workers and a campaign to get him fired on false charges. He filed another complaint with the county, as well as reporting the abuse to state and federal agencies.
The county denies that it retaliated or failed to investigate the racial discrimination complaints.
What are the remedies in an employment discrimination suit?
Any one of the claims would be actionable under New Jersey and federal laws: (1) persistent racial discrimination, (2) retaliation for filing discrimination claims, (3) ignoring an employee’s medical restrictions and (4) retaliation for filing a workers’ comp claim.
Mr. Butts, who has worked for Salem County since 1997, is seeking to have his seniority restored, along with back pay and benefits. He also seeks compensatory damages for the emotional and psychological suffering, as well as punitive damages for egregious misconduct and violation of his civil rights. He is seeking a jury trial in New Jersey Superior Court (state court) to tell his story.
Passman & Kaplan, P.C., has represented state and county government employees in employment litigation. The firm is best known for representing federal workers, who are entitled to unique rights and remedies, including proceedings before the Merit Systems Protection Board.