A black Muslim employee of a cable TV installing company left without a job after its acquisition sufficiently pleaded discriminatory and retaliatory treatment, a federal judge in Camden ruled in denying a defense motion for summary judgment.
The allegations “support an inference that Prince Telecom refused to accept [his] employment application, or to offer him employment, because of his race,” U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb held on July 26 in Mann v. Prince Telecom LLC, 12-cv-6263.
While working at Ocean Cable Group Inc. prior to its acquisition, Carlton Mann Sr. filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission alleging racial bias.
After the 2011 announcement that Ocean Cable would be acquired, Mann and other employees reported to Prince Telecom’s Philadelphia office to interview for positions. Mann claims that when he filled out an application and met with Prince Telecom human resources director Anita Varghese, she told him he wasn’t from “here” and looked “like an A-rab.” Mann wears a beard and a traditional Muslim cap.
Also, Varghese allegedly refused to accept Mann’s application because he wouldn’t hand over his Social Security card, though she did not require the same of other applicants.
Later, Mann called to inquire about his candidacy for a position, but Varghese said only that he could be fired for any reason. Mann also spoke with Robert Mills, owner of Ocean Cable who, in connection with the acquisition, became a manager at Prince Telecom. Mills allegedly told Mann that the EEOC and corresponding Pennsylvania complaint “left a bad taste” in his mouth, and encouraged Mann to drop the complaints.
Mann was not offered a job, though most other Ocean Cable employees were hired over to Prince Telecom and he was more qualified or at least as qualified as they were, he claims.
In his federal suit, Mann alleges Prince Telecom’s refusal to hire him was based on race, religion and perceived national origin, in violation of the Law Against Discrimination and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He also asserted a retaliation claim under § 1981.
Mann seeks compensatory damages, including past and future lost wages and benefits, punitive damages, emotional distress and other noneconomic damages, and attorney fees.
Prince Telecom moved to dismiss all three counts, essentially contending that Mann fell short of making out prima facie claims.
But Bumb, sitting in Camden, held that Mann’s allegations, if assumed to be true, were sufficient.
Prince Telecom’s argument that Mann can’t demonstrate an adverse employment action because technically he never submitted an application “misunderstands the crux of Plaintiff’s claim,” Bumb said. Mann “clearly indicated his interest in a position … and these allegations are sufficient regardless of whether he actually submitted an application.”
Also, Mann did not need to allege that similarly situated employees outside his protected class were treated differently. Varghese’s remarks, coupled with her demand for a Social Security card, were “sufficient to infer that her actions were compelled by discriminatory animus,” Bumb said.
As for his retaliation claim, Bumb found “plausible” the alleged causal connection between the EEOC and Pennsylvania complaints and Prince Telecom’s refusal to accept Mann’s application. Mills’ comments to Mann “suggest that Defendant not only had learned of Plaintiff’s discrimination complaints but also had reacted negatively to such knowledge,” she said.
Also, Bumb dispensed with Prince Telecom’s contention that the LAD claims must be dismissed because Mann alleged no nexus with New Jersey and always worked in Pennsylvania.
“It is difficult to understand how Plaintiff’s prior place of employment with Defendant’s predecessor bears on this issue at all,” Bumb wrote, adding that residency also doesn’t determine LAD applicability.
Bumb, operating under the assumption that the job he sought would be based in New Jersey, did note that Prince Telecom could reassert its argument for striking the LAD claims if that turned out to be untrue.
Mann’s lawyer, Philadelphia solo Jeremy Rosenbaum, says the decision makes clear that a change in corporate ownership “doesn’t immunize” companies from claims over wrongful practices.
“There absolutely can be retaliation [or discrimination] by … an acquiring company against an employee of the company being acquired,” Rosenbaum says.
Rosenbaum adds that Mann’s action is unlike the typical failure-to-hire case because Mann had a history with the people who made the ultimate decisions as to his employment.
Prince Telecom, of New Castle, Del., performs installation and maintenance on behalf of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and other cable TV providers, according to its website. It has a management office in Mount Laurel.
Its local counsel, Arthur Murray of Jacobs & Barbone in Atlantic City, deferred comment to lead counsel, Molly DiBianca of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Wilmington, Del., who did not return a call.