A hostile work environment claim made by a school board worker who was allegedly subjected by his supervisor to daily offensive comments and jokes about Puerto Ricans was reinstated by a federal appeals court.
Jamie Ortiz, who worked at various jobs for the Broward County School Board in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from 2009 until late 2017, said his supervisor made comments such as, â€œIâ€™m around too many Puerto Ricans, I better carry my gun with me,â€ according to Thursdayâ€™s ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in Jamie Ortiz v. School Board of Broward County, Florida. His testimony was largely confirmed by several of his co-workers, according to the ruling.
Mr. Ortiz filed suit in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale against the school board on charges including a hostile work environment. The court granted the school board summary judgment dismissing the case, concluding the supervisorâ€™s remarks were not frequent, severe or threatening.
The ruling on the hostile work environment claim was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. A â€œreasonable jury could conclude that Ortizâ€™s workplace was objectively hostile to a reasonable person in his positionâ€ and that the harassment was severe, said the ruling.
It said the supervisor never called Mr. Ortiz by his name and â€œinstead referred to him simply as â€˜Puerto Rican,â€™ suggesting that Ortiz was not worthy of individual dignity or respect and was no different than the stereotype of Puerto Ricans reflected in (the supervisorâ€™s) comments.
â€œA reasonable person in Ortizâ€™s position could view these comments and his conduct as demeaning and humiliating,â€ said the ruling, in reinstating the hostile work environment claim and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Mr. Ortizâ€™s Fort Lauderdale-based attorney, attorney, Mark J. Berkowitz, said, â€œWeâ€™re very pleased, obviously, that the 11th Circuit reversed the District Court ruling on the existence of a hostile work environment. We always felt that the evidence was clear that the work environment was permeated with an egregious form of discrimination on a daily basis and met the severe and pervasive standard.â€
The school boardâ€™s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.