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Federal Magistrate Recommends Dismissal of Case by Employee Holding Racist Views

Racism and race are not the same and thus do not receive the same protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, according to a Pennsylvania federal magistrate.

James Ledda chaired the social studies department at a Pennsylvania Catholic school. He claimed the school disciplined him instead of the Black student that Ledda caught using a cell phone in violation of school policy. Ledda asserted the student threatened him when Ledda asked for the phone as required by the policy. The student stated Ledda had “gotten into his face,” while another black student complained that Ledda treated Black students differently. The school administration and church diocese fired him; Ledda sued under Title VII for a hostile work environment and retaliation.

“No court has deemed the holding of racist views, or the perceived adherence to racist beliefs, to fall within the ambit of the term ‘race’ as it is used in Title VII,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson. The judge found the school took adverse employment actions against Ledda based on the perception that Ledda was racist, not because of Ledda’s race. “Being identified as a racist does not necessarily carry with it some identification of a person’s race.” In recommending dismissal of the case, the judge advised that Title VII should not be read in a way that proscribes race discrimination at work but provides some protection for employees engaging in conduct that may be perceived as racist. The school terminated Ledda because administrators believed he engaged in racist behavior towards Black students, not because Ledda complained of discriminatory treatment. A federal district court will ultimately decide if the case is dismissed.