Beware retaliation when rehiring after layoff

When an employee complains about discrimination and then finds himself part of a reduction in force, he may have a tough time proving that the complaint had ­anything to do with the layoff.

But if he then ends up being the only employee never recalled or rehired, he may have a retaliation case.

Recent case: John, who is black, complained to his supervisors at Universal Steel that he believed white employees were being paid more than blacks. Nothing changed.

Then a new manager arrived and John said things got worse. He said the pay disparity continued, while the new boss weekly subjected him and other minority workers to a string of “derogatory, stereotypical, and bigoted remarks.” John and another employee confronted the manager but, again, nothing changed.

Then John complained that black workers had assignments piled on while white workers coasted. The manager told John he should quit if he didn’t like the way things were managed. John protested that he wasn’t going to be intimidated out of a job.

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Shortly after, John was laid off along with seven other employees, six white and one black. Although Universal Steel began hiring back the white employees the next week, John was never re-hired. Instead, management told him that his position had been outsourced permanently.

John sued, alleging that he had been retaliated against for complaining about unequal treatment.

Universal Steel argued that John had merely been unlucky when he was included in the layoff and his job was outsourced while the others were rehired.

The court didn’t buy that argument and ordered a retaliation trial. (Pierce v. Universal Steel of North Caro­­lina, No. 1:13CV158, MD NC, 2014)