The Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed today that the owners of the Glass Slipper, a Combat Zone holdover on Lagrange Street, made the club a bad place for Blacks to work, but dismissed a state finding that a Black bouncer was fired because of his race, because the man's formal complaint never explicitly said he was fired for that reason.
The ruling means the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination will have to reevaluate the $45,000 it awarded Derrick Sims for lost wages and emotional distress and the $37,000 in attorneys' fees and costs it granted his lawyer for his firing in 2011, because those amounts were based on a ruling that the club both created a racially hostile workplace and fired the bouncer because of his race.
The appeals court agreed there was no question that, at least 10 years ago, the Glass Slipper was not a good place for Blacks to work, what with one owner referring to the few black dancers he allowed on stage as "niggers," and always assigning Sims to less desirable outside duty, sometimes even after a manager had assigned him to inside stations, and by refusing to acknowledge him by name or shake his hand, which he did frequently with the white bouncers. Also, there was the time he allegedly told a white bouncer he didn't want "colored people" using the new walkie-talkies the club had bought.
Sims was fired after he allegedly left his shift early one day without finding a replacement - something Sims disputed.
But while the commission concluded after hearings that his firing was racially motivated, Sims's formal complaint did not make that allegation. Instead it refers only to the hostile workplace and to an allegation that club ownership wanted him gone for another reason: Because he was "asking too many questions" about another bouncer he claimed was harassing dancers.
The commission argued that it has traditionally issued rulings based on where the evidence leads, and that Sims more explicitly claimed he was fired out of racial animus in a deposition he gave.
Not good enough, the court ruled. Neither Sims's attorney nor the commission ever amended the complaint to add the racial-firing charge, which deprived the club of its rights to answer the charge in more detail before the commission ruled, the court said.
[W]here, as here, neither the complainant nor the commission has put the respondent on notice of a claim in advance of the hearing, the prejudice is manifest.