Civil Rights Commission’s $96K discrimination award upheld

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a nearly $100,000 judgment in favor of a black man who claims he was subject to discriminatory practices by his former employer after ruling the Indiana Civil Rights Commission’s finding in favor of the man was not invalid or void.

During his employment with Roman Marblene Co., Inc., a bathroom fixtures manufacturer, Reginald Baker was the only black employee and was often subject to slurs and harassment. Additionally, after injuring his hand and having to attend a related doctor’s appointment, Baker was docked one day’s pay for failing to call in sick in advance, the first time a salaried employee had received such a sanction.

Baker filed a written protest against the sanction with James Triantos, the company’s owner. A few weeks later, Triantos asked Baker to change the head of the spray gun, which Baker said he could not do because another employee was using it.

Triantos then claimed Baker had refused to perform the task due to a medical restriction and placed him on involuntary unpaid medical leave. However, four similarly situated white employees with medical impairments were not treated in the same way.

After Triantos rejected Baker’s multiple attempts to return to work, Baker filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which transferred the complaint to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. Meanwhile, Triantos continued to prohibit Baker from returning to work, even after Baker presented a doctor’s note saying he had no restrictions. Triantos eventually terminated Baker after a verbal confrontation.

While the ICRC issued a determination of probable cause that discriminatory practices had occurred, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Roman Marblene. Baker then filed objections with the commission, which heard oral argument and ultimately ruled in his favor after finding Triantos’ reasons for not letting Baker work were pretextual.

The commission then awarded Baker roughly $96,000 in damages for lost wages. The company appealed in Roman Marblene Co., Inc. v. Reginald Baker, 93A02-1701-EX-91, arguing the ICRC lacked authority to reweigh evidence and disregard the ALJ’s proposed findings and conclusions. But the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s decision Friday, with Judge Terry Crone writing Indiana statute says the ICRC may, not shall, appoint an ALJ to conduct a fact-finding hearing, as it did here.

“Contrary to Roman Marblene’s assertions, the ultimate authority is not then constrained to accept the ALJ’s proposed findings and conclusions simply because it chose in its discretion to utilize this procedure for conducting its investigation and factfinding,” Crone wrote. “Rather, after an ALJ issues a proposed order, ‘the ultimate authority or its designee shall issue a final order: (1) affirming; (2) modifying; or (3) dissolving’ the ALJ’s order.” The commission’s order was therefore not invalid, as the company argued.

Roman Marblene also argued the order was void because it was issued outside of the statutorily ordered 60-day time period. However, Crone said the appellate court had previously determined in State v. Langen, 708 N.E.2d 617, 622 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999) that the statute in question, Indiana Code Section 4-21.5-3-29(f), is directory, not mandatory. Additionally, the company failed to object to the ICRC exceeding the 60-day timeframe, thus waiving the issue.

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