Though this last year has brought racial reckoning to the forefront of American consciousness, in a recent legal case a major company has shown how companies (and the Court system) continue to be hostile to anti-discrimination protections in the workplace. The case of Terrance Walker and Charter Communications, which has snaked its way through the federal court system to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice, is a prime example.
According to his brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals filed in April 2021, Walker was a proven salesman at Charter Communications (whose “services are branded as Charter Spectrum” on their website). He had a dozen years experience in the cable TV industry and had received excellent reviews from his bosses as a “leader”, getting along great with co-workers, and earned the distinction of being a top sales rep for months in their Reno, Nevada market.
Charter has found itself the subject of numerous discrimination suits including the most noteworthy of recent times by media mogul Byron Allen, which settled out of court earlier this year.
Walker claims that after a company phone call, a Charter supervisor told him he was “late” to work in the field and not given any feedback on why the salaried sales rep was late. He also claims he was summarily fired after a direct call with his Mexican supervisor who refused to answer questions about what hours he is supposed to work or why he was to be given a “corrective action.” The lawsuit also alleges that a white co-worker was also given a corrective action for the same call but NOT fired.
Walker claims Charter gave Walker a nondescript termination for “unprofessional conduct” and even submitted to the Courts on a summary judgment motion and Walker’s first appeal that his termination was only due to these two phone calls. Walker also claims one of his white supervisors had directed an “investigation” into Walker’s sales for the unexplained rationale that he thought Walker was “dishonest” and another White HR representative who claimed it was Walker’s “decision to leave.” Walker asserts in Court filings that this exhibited “pretext” as he never resigned.
Walker claims that Charter used the Mexican sales supervisor as a “prop” to shield the company from the implication of discrimination and retaliation (for the internal complaint about his treatment on the calls).
To add insult to injury, at his discrimination trial, Charter claimed Walker’s pre-trial litigation email insisting that Charter follow the Order of the Court in putting together a trial schedule, a “threat” and the judge allowed Charter to use the emails to establish “aggressive” personality.
According to Walker, the Court proceedings “were marked with official sneer and snark.”
The level of Court hostility toward discrimination plaintiffs was also noted in a 2012 report. “JUDICIAL HOSTILITY TO WORKERS’ RIGHTS: THE CASE FOR PROFESSIONAL DIVERSITY ON THE FEDERAL BENCH” A Report By The National Employment Lawyers Association February 2012.
As one (Now) Judge Edward M. Chen U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
noted about judicial bias in these types of cases:
“Simply put, a judge’s life experiences affect the willingness to credit testimony or understand the human impact of legal rules upon which the judge must decide. These determinations require a judge to draw upon something that is not found in the case reports that line the walls of our chambers. Rather judges draw upon the breadth and depth of their own life experience, upon knowledge and understanding of people, and of human nature.” — Edward M. Chen, The Judiciary, Diversity, and Justice for All, 91 CALIF. L. REV. 4 (2003), p. 1120.
Despite the insurmountable hurdles put in his path, Walker is now back in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on his retaliation and discrimination claims. Walker is claiming that Charter committed fraud due to their withheld termination grounds and very bizarre rulings by the District Court that allowed his litigation emails to be used at his trial to prove he was an “aggressive” Black man; characterizations that he and lawyers strenuously objected to.