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Jones v. Kitsap County Sanitary Landfill Inc.

January 23, 1991

RANDY JONES, APPELLANT,
v.
KITSAP COUNTY SANITARY LANDFILL, INC., ET AL, RESPONDENTS



Worswick, C.j. Alexander and Morgan, JJ., concur.

Author: Worswick

Randy Jones, a black man, was fired by his employer, Juan de Fuca Corrugated, Ltd., a salvaging concern, from his job as a salvager at a Kitsap County dump. We now reverse summary judgment dismissing his claim for racially-motivated discharge against Juan de Fuca

and Kitsap County Sanitary Landfill, Inc., operator of the dump.*fn1

Jones started working as a salvager for Juan de Fuca in 1984. His employment was terminable at will. In July 1985, Jones suffered partial amputation of a finger in an accident involving a front-loader, which he had been learning to operate. Jones was not returned to his front-loader job when he went back to work, and he states that the position was filled by a white person. Jones was assigned lighter duty directing traffic at the public entrance to the landfill, in keeping with his doctor's orders. Occasionally, Jones was asked to pick up debris at the entrance, and he says that this aggravated his injury. After several weeks on this lighter duty, Jones was reassigned to salvager duties. He claims that the lighter duty job went to a white worker whose physical restrictions were less than his own.

Jones' affidavit alleges other acts of discrimination including an incident in which three black workers were reported for tardiness, although chronically tardy white workers were not. He states that whites were generally treated with more respect and courtesy than blacks. Jones states that no reasons were given for his dismissal in early September 1986, 14 months after his accident.

In his summary judgment affidavit, Richard Arnold, on-site superintendent for both companies, stated that Jones was fired for absenteeism and theft of landfill property. Arnold had seen Jones putting a garden hoe into his car.

Although Washington's law against discrimination, RCW 49.60, prohibits racial discrimination in employment (RCW 49.60.180(2)) and creates private causes of action (RCW 49.60.030(2)), it does not define the elements of a cause of action for a racially motivated discharge. We believe, and

we hold, that the elements of a racial discharge claim are the same as those in an age discrimination case.*fn2

[1, 2] To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show that he or she (1) was a member of a protected class; (2) was discharged; (3) was doing satisfactory work; and (4) was replaced by someone not in the protected class. See Grimwood v. University of Puget Sound, Inc., 110 Wash. 2d 355, 362, 753 P.2d 517 (1988); Hatfield v. Columbia Fed. Sav. Bank, 57 Wash. App. 876, 790 P.2d 1258 (1990). Confounding the traditional notion of a prima facie case, however, a fifth element lurks over the horizon. It is appended to the plaintiff's burden, but only after the employer-defendant produces evidence tending to show a nonracial reason for the discharge. The plaintiff must then produce evidence tending to show that the employer's stated reason was only a pretext. See Hatfield, 57 Wash. App. at 880.

Confusion has arisen concerning the role of this fifth element in a summary judgment proceeding because of the following language in Grimwood, a summary judgment case:

Once a plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, the employer must articulate a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination. The employer's burden at this stage is not one of persuasion, but rather a burden of production. To go forward, the employer need only articulate reasons sufficient to meet the prima facie case. . . . Once the employer fulfills his burden of production, to create ...


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