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Three longtime former employees of Florida’s Hialeah Housing Authority who claimed they were the targets of discrimination and retaliation by their former employer did not provide enough evidence to make their case in court. The ruling, issued by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, upholds last year’s decision by U.S. District Judge Kevin Moore to throw out the suit filed in 1997 by the former employees, Richard Fusaro, Hugo Hernandez and Roberto Jimenez, who were fired from their jobs. Moore’s ruling had come just one week before a jury trial was to begin. “In a lot of ways it’s a significant vindication for the Housing Authority, because the allegations were � spurious and full of rhetoric and politics,” said Edward Guedes of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza & Guedes in Miami, who represents the authority. The ruling, said Guedes, is also significant because it shows the threshold of what is needed to prove employment discrimination. “The 11th Circuit looked at the evidence that the plaintiffs presented and concluded there was no reasonable basis given to disbelieve the reasons the Housing Authority had given for [the plaintiffs'] poor job performance,” Guedes said. But Nicolas Manzini of Miami’s Manzini & Associates, who represented Hernandez and Jimenez, said that he believes the court misapplied the law and that he plans to file for a rehearing by the end of the week. “With all of the evidence of pretext in this case, that the 11th Circuit didn’t seem to be impressed with, I can’t imagine how they can just throw it out like that. That’s why I am moving for a rehearing,” Manzini said. Fusaro, who was a 17-year employee of the authority, claimed he was fired from his job as director of operations after exposing mismanagement at the agency to the FBI. The other two plaintiffs, Hernandez, a 13-year employee, and Jimenez, a 21-year employee, alleged they were ousted for signing letters in support of Fusaro. Jimenez was director of maintenance and in charge of a public housing warehouse. Hernandez worked at the warehouse under Jimenez. According to court documents, Fusaro contacted federal investigators in 1994 who had been looking into allegations of mismanagement that had taken place under Rafael Sanchez, who had been executive director. Sanchez was fired, and Fusaro, who had worked at the authority since 1980, was named acting director. Because of the investigation, Fusaro was directed by Ruth Tinsman, the chairman of the board of the housing authority, not to hire or fire anyone or raise salaries without first talking to her. Fusaro ignored her directive, which resulted in his being reassigned to his former position as director of operations. Maria Roca was then named executive director. It was then that Fusaro claimed that Roca began her campaign of retaliation, which included his suspension and memos complaining about how he dealt with bids. He was eventually fired. Fusaro also alleged age and race discrimination because Roca was younger, less experienced and Hispanic. His attorney, J.B. Harris, was on vacation and unavailable for comment. Hernandez and Jimenez were fired within two weeks of Fusaro’s departure. The housing authority claimed it was because of problems found during a surprise inventory of the warehouse where they worked. But the men claimed they were fired for signing a letter in support of Fusaro. The 11th Circuit said their retaliation claim didn’t hold up because they failed to prove that the letter they signed was a “statutorily protected activity,” and neither had disputed the accuracy of the audit. Said Manzini, “It’s hard in these cases to get to trial. You can raise all of these issues and think its impossible to dispose of so many factual issues, yet the court will see it differently.”

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