Appellate Court Says Four Black Female Carpenters May Proceed with Sex Bias and Retaliation Claims against Carpenters & Joiners Union

In the case of Butt v. Carpenters & Joiners of Am., the Third Circuit recently held that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania wrongly dismissed the claims of four black female carpenters who claimed that the Carpenters and Joiners of America discriminated and retaliated against them in making job referrals.


The four female carpenters asserted sex discrimination claims under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and race discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 against the union, its business manager, and its business agent.  The plaintiffs also asserted Title VII and Section 1981 retaliation claims and at least one of the plaintiffs asserted race and sex bias claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.


The Third Circuit found that the lower court failed to properly consider certain factual issues and therefore the dismissal was improper.  One of the key facts had to do with the union’s agent allegedly telling one of the plaintiffs that “his people” were still out of work when she inquired about work.  The plaintiff interpreted the phrase “his people” to mean white men.  The lower court interpreted this statement to mean that the union’s agent did not identify with black female carpenters.  However, the plaintiff’s interpretation of the comment was the only interpretation that the appellate court could find on the record.  Thus, the appellate court found that the comment was enough to create a factual issue for trial on the discrimination claims.


As for the retaliation claims, the lower court took too narrow of a view of retaliation by focusing on retaliatory actions that resulted in a clear change in employment status.  According to the appellate court, the lower could should have also considered acts meant to keep workers from making discrimination complaints.  Here, the plaintiffs claimed that their reduction in hours was in retaliation for their direct complaints to the union, their EEOC discrimination charge against the union and their testimony before a Philadelphia advisory commission.  After two of the plaintiffs testified before the commission, the union’s agent sent the media a letter stating that two women had been laid off in the past because of poor performance.  Although the record contained little information about the letter that was sent to the press, the appellate court held that such action arguably could have sufficed as retaliatory action under the law and therefore the letter raised an issue of fact for trial.


This article is authored by attorney Shannon O. Young and is intended for educational purposes and to give you general information and a general understanding of the law only, not to provide specific legal advice. Any particular questions should be directed to your legal counsel or, if you do not have one, please feel free to contact us.


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