RACE DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST CORBION D/B/A CARAVAN INGREDIENTS INC. AND TWO OF ITS RECENTLY HIRED UPPER-LEVEL CORPORATE OFFICERS FOR TERMINATING THE EMPLOYMENT OF A MINORITY EMPLOYEE, WHO HAD BEEN EMPLOYED BY THE COMPANY FOR 20 YEARS, FOR ENGAGING IN A RELATIVELY MINOR WORKPLACE BANTER WITH A RECENTLY HIRED WHITE EMPLOYEE WHO ENGAGED IN WORST CONDUCT WITH NO PUNISHMENT.

We filed a Race and Ethnicity Discrimination case against CORBION d/b/a/ Caravan Ingredients Inc. and two of its upper-level corporate officers, Stephanie Wypasek, a Human Resource Manager  and Scott Mulligan, and  operations manager, on behalf of a minority client who worked for Corbion for 20 years and was fired for engaging in a relatively minor workplace banter with a recently-hired Caucasian co-worker, who was given no discipline for engaging in the very same workplace banter with the plaintiff.

The case was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson County.  The basis for plaintiff’s discrimination claims is as follows:

  • Plaintiff (KN), a father of two (2) children and of Guyanese Indian origin, worked for Corbion for approximately 20 years as a material handler, and at the time of his termination, earned about $125,000 with overtime.
  • The environment in which KN worked is a factory setting, a warehouse.  Within the warehouse, joking around, name-calling, and the use of profanities in a friendly manner were quite common. In fact, KN and his white co-worker (MM) often joke around with each other.
  • One morning, KN went to the refrigerator located in the company’s cafeteria to get his ginger tea, which he had made at home the night before and drank it because he was not feeling well.  MM apparently noticing the unusual appearance of the homemade ginger tea, jokingly asked RN, “is that drugs. KN jokingly responded, “No… it’s not drugs… “shut the fuck up and go take your crack.” MM then responded, “if I was on crack, I would get a gun and kill everyone.”
  • Plaintiff thought that the above exchange was just two guys engaging in an ordinary playful workplace banter and joking around with each other.
  • However, MM apparently got upset at KN and complained to the HR manager that KN told him to  “shut the fuck up and go take your crack.” Ordinarily, absent discriminatory intent, such conduct would and should result in a company speaking to both employees and counsel them to not engage in such conduct with each other, and if the conduct persists, suspension, or in more severe cases, termination
  • However, the Caucasian HR manager (employed at the location for only 2 and ½ years at the time), and the Caucasian operations manager (employed for only 1 year at the time) decided to fire  KN for stating to MM “shut the fuck up and go take your crack,” and gave MM just a “coaching notice” stating, in effect,  that MM “should  be careful with his words” and in the future, don’t make comments such as “If I was on crack, I would get a gun and shoot everyone,” a stunning and inherent display of discriminatory treatment.
  • Among other claims, the defendants claimed that they fired the KN because he “created a hostile work environment” by “bulling” MM, when he said, “shut the fuck up and go take your crack” and then lied about it.
  • MM is a Caucasian male, who had been employed at Corbion for only 3 years at the time of the plaintiff’s termination.
  • Apparently, for the HRM and Operations manager, it appears that it was OK for a Caucasian worker to refer to a minority worker’s ginger tea as “drugs,” and the white worker making a terroristic comment about ‘shooting co-workers.” but it is not OK for a minority employee to joke around with his Caucasian  co-worker by stating, “shut the fuck up and go take your crack.” That is invidious discrimination.
  • Further, 93 former co-workers ( including MM) signed a petition telling management that KN’s was harsh and excessive, and called for KN’s reinstatement. However, the HR manager and the Operations Manager ignored these 93 employees, including MM, who complained to HR.
  • KN also alleges that the defendant did not discipline MM for writing the following on a bulletin board in the company refrigerator in the cafeteria:

Keys to CORBION Success

1. Look Busy!

2. Sound Important!

3. Baffle with Bullshit!

4. Fuck Bitches > Get More

One of the most common ways to prove race discrimination is comparing the disciplines given to two employees of different races for engaging in comparatively  similar workplace misconduct.  If the employer suspends the minority employee but issued only a warning to the white employee for similar offenses, that is proof of discrimination. Where the employer fires the minority employee but issues only a warning to the white employee, that is proof of egregious and  malevolent discrimination.

New Jersey is an “at-will” state, which means that, generally, a private employer is free to hire and fire anyone at will, with or without reason. However, under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), an employer cannot discriminate against any employee in the terms and conditions of that employee’s employment including hiring, promotion, discipline, etc., irrespective of whether the employee is an “at-will” employee.

During the litigation of this case, the employer denied they discriminated against the plaintiff, and asserted that they fired KN for “legitimate non-discriminatory reasons.”  Among other defenses, the employer claimed that no one said anything “racists” to the plaintiff, and therefore plaintiff cannot prove racial discrimination. On that basis, they filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim.  However, it is well-settled that an employee need not produce evidence of anyone “saying anything racial” to him/her. Virtually all courts in the nation, including New Jersey, recognize that a decision-maker of even marginal intelligence would never admit to discriminatory intent.  Indeed, in today’s workplace, no sensible HR manager or supervisor would directly tell an employee that he/she is being fired because of his/her age, race, color, sex, pregnancy, etc., nor would he/she leave a “paper trail” of evidence of discriminatory intent, or any recordings, text messages, or writings on the wall.  Discrimination is often hidden. That is why the courts permit a victim of discrimination to present his/her case to the jury if she/he produces circumstantial evidence of discrimination. Two employees of different races committing substantially identical acts but given vastly different punishment is fundamentally strong circumstantial evidence of discrimination. The court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on that basis.

At Chatarpaul Law Firm, P.C. we focus mainly on employment discrimination and civil rights violations, including state and federal statutory and constitutional rights violations. Kindly contact us at 201-222-0123 or [email protected] if you are a victim of workplace discrimination, harassment, or other statutory or constitutional law violations.