Inability to do work hampers FEPA ancestral origin claims.


Byline: Barry Bridges

A Superior Court judge has held that a native Ecuadorian who pursued various claims against her employer under the state's Fair Employment Practices Act did not demonstrate that she suffered discrimination based on her ancestral origin.

In upholding a decision by the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, Judge Netti C. Vogel found that the complainant, Martha D. Benitez, did not establish a prima facie case of discrimination in compensation through the fact that the Pyramid Case Co. of Providence did not give her a pay raise.

Concluding that the first prong of the McDonnell Douglas paradigm was not satisfied, Vogel wrote that "there was no evidence regarding the specific positions held by the purported similarly situated, non-protected individuals who received pay raises, and no evidence regarding their job descriptions or skill levels."

Further, Vogel deemed as legally insufficient the complainant's assertion that Pyramid terminated her employment based on her ancestral origin, finding that the company had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for dismissing Benitez in light of the fact that her skills did not match its business needs.

The 32-page decision is Benitez v. Susa, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 61-071-19. The full text of the ruling can be found here.

Francis A. Gaschen served as counsel for the commission along with Marissa Janton.

"If you view this holding through the prism of a standard agency appeal, the record below really controls what happens," Gaschen said. "It's hard to overturn a properly heard and drafted decision, and this case proved to be no exception."

Benitez was represented by Mark P. Gagliardi of Providence, who did not respond to a request for comments by press time.

Expanding product line

Benitez was born in Ecuador and came to the United States in 1987. In March 2003, she began working at Pyramid Case Co., where she made eyeglass cases with a single-needle sewing machine at $7 an hour.

By all accounts, Benitez was a good employee. However, she never learned to handle more complex machinery that would have allowed her to better contribute to the company's growing product line.

With Pyramid asserting there was not enough work to justify her continued employment, Benitez was laid off in 2008 when her wage was $8 an hour.

That October, Benitez filed a charge with the Commission for Human Rights against Pyramid and three of her former supervisors, alleging discriminatory terms and...

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