U.S. Tennis must face Black security guard's retaliation claim - 2nd Circ.

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REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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  • Guard wins new chance to prove U.S. Tennis Association was a "joint employer"
  • USTA allegedly denied him a job because of prior race bias complaint

(Reuters) - An appeals court on Monday gave a Black security guard another shot at pursuing his claims that the United States Tennis Association denied him a job at the 2016 U.S. Open because he had complained about race discrimination at the event years earlier.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Sean Felder should have a chance to file an amended lawsuit fleshing out his claims that the USTA should be held liable for retaliating against him even though he was employed by a staffing agency and not the association.

The USTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did Felder's lawyers at Lincoln Square Legal Services.

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Anti-discrimination and other workplace laws allow businesses to be held liable as "joint employers" of contract workers when they exercise significant control over their working conditions.

Felder sued the USTA in 2017 without the help of a lawyer, claiming his employer assigned him to work at the U.S. Open the previous year but the association refused to give him credentials. Felder had previously sued a different staffing agency for allegedly giving Black guards less desirable jobs at the 2009 U.S. Open.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan dismissed the lawsuit against the USTA, saying Felder had not alleged facts backing up his claim that the association was his joint employer and could be liable for retaliation.

On Monday, two of the three judges on the 2nd Circuit panel said Ramos was correct to toss out the case. But now that Felder has a lawyer, he should be allowed to file an amended complaint detailing how the USTA exercised control over security guards, wrote Circuit Judge Debra Livingston, joined by Circuit Judge José Cabranes.

In a partial dissent, Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch said that plaintiffs like Felder who claim they were denied a job for discriminatory reasons should not have to prove that a defendant is a joint employer at all.

"There is no plausible reason to allow an employer such as USTA to indulge its own biased preferences by purporting to outsource the hiring of security guards at its events to a contractor," Lynch wrote.

The case is Felder v. United States Tennis Association, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-1094.

For Felder: Rebecca Lyn Guthrie of Lincoln Square Legal Services Inc

For USTA: Stephanie Wilson of Reed Smith

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.