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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ind. Decisions - "Women fired for race: Ruling says whites received far less punishment for far worse behavior"

The May 21st Supreme Court decision in the case of Filter Specialists, Inc. v. Dawn Brooks, et al (ILB summary here) is the subject of several stories today.

Laurie Wink of the Michigan City News-Dispatch reports:

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Supreme Court upheld a ruling from the La Porte Circuit Court that Dawn Brooks and Charmaine Weathers "were discharged from employment because of race." Both women, who are black, worked at Filter Specialists Inc.

The court, however, disagreed on part of the Circuit Court's ruling, which diminished the amount of backpay the women received from an original number the Michigan City Human Rights Commission suggested. The Supreme Court ruled Brooks was entitled to backpay in the amount of $22,157.69, rather than $17,469.79, as had been determined by the Circuit Court. Weathers is entitled to receive $5,613, compared to $12,090.

According to a 20-page decision from the Supreme Court, Brooks and Weathers arrived at Filter Specialists at approximately 7 a.m. March 5, 2003. Weathers, who drove Brooks to work, dropped her off at one of the entrances while she parked and entered through a different door.

Diana Wirtz, the company's human resource manager, saw Weathers walk in the second entrance and waited for her by the first entrance, but she never showed up. It was at that time she checked time clock records and found Weathers and Brooks had clocked in on the same time clock at 7:01 a.m.

Wirtz and production manager Mike Forbes then discussed the issue with Bernie Faulkner, Filter Specialists' chief operating officer, and the three determined the women wouldn't be fired as long as they signed an agreement that stated one would not clock in for the other again.

The decision continues that both women denied clocking for the other and refused to sign. Forbes fired the women, though they had no history of fraud with the company.

Brooks and Weathers then filed a complaint with the Michigan City Human Rights Commission, who determined on Aug. 18, 2005, the company had instead fired them because of their race. Both were awarded backpay and fringe benefits. The La Porte Circuit Court later affirmed the commission's decision.

On Dec. 28, 2007, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined Brooks and Weathers failed to prove their discrimination case, and overturned the findings of the La Porte Circuit Court.

However, that ruling was again overturned Thursday.

"We are very pleased with (Thursday's) opinion handed down by the Indiana Supreme Court in the matter of Brooks and Weathers vs. FSI," said Shaw Friedman, the attorney representing the women in the case, along with attorney Jay Lauer, South Bend. "This case not only supports the decision-making authority of local Human Rights Commissions, but it also provides important guidance on ways an employee can demonstrate unlawful discrimination in the workplace in Indiana."

Stan Maddux's South Bend Tribune story today is headed "Women fired for race: Ruling says whites received far less punishment for far worse behavior." Some quotes:
Two black Michigan City women were fired because of the color of their skin.

That was the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday in overturning an appellate court ruling in the case of Dawn Brooks and Charmaine Weathers.

Brooks was awarded $22,157 in back pay; the back pay awarded to Weathers was $5,613. * * *

The decision by the Indiana Supreme Court upholds the initial ruling in the case made by the Michigan City Human Rights Commission, which also found race a motivating factor.

According to the complaint, the seconds of the time clock are not recorded, just the minutes. So, it was possible for both women to separately clock in less than 60 seconds apart without one clocking in for the other.

In its decision, the Supreme Court also cited the findings of the commission that white employees at the company engaged in "far more egregious" behavior and received "far less severe punishment."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 23, 2009 05:52 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions