Las Vegas Employer Successfully Defends Dirty Laundry Case

Jose Pablo Martinez was employed by Superior Linen, a Las Vegas commercial laundry and dry cleaning establishment, in its soil department where he sorted linen for washing. After seven months of working for Superior Linen, Martinez was terminated from his employment.

Following his termination, Martinez, who is a U.S. citizen, filed a complaint against Superior Linen with the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) under the nondiscrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act as amended by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, 8 U.S.C. 1324b. In his complaint, Martinez claimed that Superior Linen fired him because of his citizenship status and national origin and in retalition for complaints he had allegedly made to management about the company's allegedly preferring unauthorized workers. Martinez asserted that his complaints constituted a form of legally protected activity for which he could not be lawfully terminated.

Superior Linen denied those allegations, arguing that the reason for Martinez's termination was insubordination and poor work performance. Superior Linen alleged that Martinez had refused to clock out before going to lunch and urged his co-workers to be under-productive on the job. Superior Linen contended that Martinez filed his complaint for the purpose of harrassing Superior Linen. Following the parties' completion of discovery, Superior Linen filed a motion for summary decision.

In order for Martinez to overcome Superior Linen's motion, he first had to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. (Black's Law Dictionary defines a "prima facie case" as "[s]uch as will prevail until contradicted and overcome by other evidence.") Second, Superior Linen had to offer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing Martinez. Third, Martinez had to prove that the Superior Linen's reason was merely a pretext for firing him, in other words that Superior Linen would not have terminated his employment had Martinez not complained, and that Superior Linen had intentionally discriminated against him.

In regard to his discrimination claim, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") determined that Martinez did not offer substantial evidence that Superior Linen had treated him differently from other employees, because those employees worked in different departments and were therefore not similarly situated. On his retaliation claim, the ALJ determined that Superior Linen had submitted evidence of Martinez's performance issues and disruptive workplace behavior which Martinez could not show by substantial evidence amounted to a pretext for his termination. Since Martinez had failed to create a triable issue of fact in regard to his discrimination and retaliation claims, Superior Linen was granted summary decision as a matter of law.

I have no personal knowledge of the facts of this case, but I do have enough experience defending employment discrimination lawsuits and labor claims to know that former employees who pursue these types of matters often do so expecting justice to be done. Many do not realize until after spending large sums on attorney fees that the sort of justice they had hoped for is not the kind that the law can give. Employers, on the other hand, routinely find themselves in expensive litigation over employment decisions made, rightly or wrongly, under less than ideal circumstances. In this case, Martinez may wish that he had sorted out his facts earlier and found a more superior way to air his dirty laundry than by having an ALJ throw soil on his claims.

Timothy D. Widman is a San Jose Immigration Attorney. He is the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, which is located in San Jose, California.