Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Musial bridge worker’s reverse discrimination suit settles

By Record News | Jun 13, 2016

Builders of the Stan Musial Bridge, facing trial on a suit claiming they fired crane oiler Terry Deets because of his white skin, chose to settle with him instead.

His lawyer, John Singer of Chicago, filed notice of voluntary dismissal in U.S. district court on June 2.

Earlier this year, Seventh Circuit appellate judges in Chicago ruled that Deets deserved a trial.

They reversed District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel, who had granted summary judgment to Massman Construction, Traylor Brothers, and Alberici Constructors.

The companies built the bridge in a joint venture.

Deets’s union referred him to the project in 2012, and he started working that May.

Project superintendent John Todt laid him off in July.

According to Deets, Todt said, “My minority numbers aren’t right. I’m supposed to have 13.9 percent minorities on this job and I’ve only got 8 percent.”

His pier superintendent told him he was “sorry to hear about this minority thing,” court records show.

Todt replaced Deets with a minority person.

Deets rotated through short term assignments the rest of the year, and the builders terminated him in December.

He sued them in 2013, claiming they laid him off for no other reason than to create a position for an individual based on their minority status. He sought back pay, front pay, lost benefits, compensatory damages and punitive damages.

Rosenstengel set trial in February 2015, but granted summary judgment to the builders in January 2015.

She wrote that in order to accept Deets’s view, “we must assume that Todt is referring to Deets’s termination and not to the practicality of his hiring.”

Todt’s statement were “entirely consistent with a response to Deets’s concern about further work,” she wrote.

Rosenstengel found nothing suspicious in any reference to minority numbers, given the affirmative action obligations of the builders.

She wrote that if minority numbers were low, a minority worker had to be requested from the union.

Seventh Circuit Chief Justice Diane Wood and Justices Ann Williams and Richard Posner reversed her this February.

“Based on Todt’s statement, it does not take any inference to conclude that Deets was laid off because he was not a minority,” Williams wrote.

“That race was the factor that led to Deets’s termination is clear on the face of Todt’s statement.

“We are puzzled by the district court’s conclusion that Todt’s statement related directly to his decision not to rehire Deets rather than his decision to terminate Deets.”

In March, Rosenstengel ordered the builders to notify her promptly as to their decision to pursue a writ at the U. S. Supreme Court.

In May, she set trial for Aug. 30.

After Deets moved to dismiss the suit, Rosenstengel wrote that she would dismiss it and retain jurisdiction over the settlement.


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