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Eighth Circuit Upholds Dismissal of Discrimination/Retaliation Suit

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of a Nebraska prisoner’s employment discrimination and retaliation action.

Kamal Al-Zubaidy, an Iraqi Shiite Muslim confined in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, (NSP), was employed in a die shop operated by TEK Industries (TEK), a private employer. TEK pays “at least minimum wage, while” other prison jobs pay between $1.50 and $2.25 per day.

Al-Zubaidy worked for TEK without incident from February 1999 until March 2001, receiving at least two performance-based pay raises. In March 2001, however, Al-Zubaidy’s relationship with Barbara Unger, his immediate supervisor began to deteriorate. Al-Zubaidy complained to TEK’s president about Unger and a meeting was held on March 26, 2001 between Unger, another supervisor and Al-Zubaidy. Unger apologized to Al-Zubaidy.

On May 2, 2001, Al-Zubaidy filed a discrimination complaint against Unger with the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission (NEOC). The complaint was dismissed in August 2001 based upon an Attorney General Opinion that prisoners are not employees.

Al-Zubaidy was promoted in August, 2001, by Unger to the position of die maker, even though he failed the first test for the position. Failing the test usually eliminates the opportunity to work as die maker. Unger allowed him to retake the test and he passed it. Two months later, Al-Zubaidy was discharged from TEK for excessive absences.

Al-Zubaidy sued Unger and TEK in federal court, alleging discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The court granted Defendants summary judgment on all claims.

The Eighth Circuit agreed with the lower court that plaintiff “failed to establish a submissible claim of discriminatory discharge.” It affirmed the dismissal of his Title VII hostile work environment claim “because his work place at the Penitentiary was not permeated with severe or pervasive harassment sufficient to alter the terms, conditions or privileges of employment…Al-Zubaidy’s evidence falls far short of the Supreme Court’s demanding harassment standards.” Finding that plaintiff “explicitly ties the fate of his federal and state civil rights claims to his success on his Title VII claims,” the court dismissed those claims.
The court also found that Al-Zubaidy’s state claims mirrored his Title VII claims, therefore, state law afforded him no greater success.
Finally, the court found that Al-Zubaidy waived his retaliation claim. See: Al-Zubaidy v. TEK Industries Inc., 406 F.3d 1030 (8th Cir. 2005).

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Related legal case

Al-Zubaidy v. TEK Industries Inc.