The Sheppard, White, Kachergus, and DeMaggio team won another appeal in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The case involved race discrimination and retaliation claims against the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. Our client, Captain Eric Mitchell, was the second-highest ranking officer at the department's training academy and was its only African-American employee at the time the incident occurred.
In an opinion rendered this week-Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado-the Supreme Court carved out an important exception to a longstanding rule prohibiting jurors from being questioned about conduct during deliberations after a verdict has been rendered. The case involved a Colorado man who was convicted for sexually assaulting two teenage girls. The jury returned a verdict against him. After the trial, two jurors approached Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's criminal defense attorney and expressed concerns about another juror's racial comments during deliberations. Specifically, the juror went into a lengthy tirade about Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's Hispanic heritage, noting that he "believed the defendant was guilty because, in [the juror's] experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women."
Last week, in a panel decision, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the Eleventh Circuit held that employers can discriminate against employees for wearing their hair in dreadlocks. The lawsuit was brought by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of a prospective employee who refused to comply with a company's grooming policy prohibiting employees from having dreadlocks. The EEOC contended that the defendant's refusal to hire the plaintiff was a form of race discrimination, because the hairstyle was one closely associated with individuals of African descent.