Jury finds Burlington Coat Factory discriminated against Puerto Rican employees

Posted Aug. 12, 2011, at 1:53 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 12, 2011, at 9:56 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal jury on Thursday found that Burlington Coat Factory unlawfully discriminated against two former employees who are natives of Puerto Rico and awarded them a total of $80,000 in back pay, benefits and compensatory damages.

Jurors also found that the Bangor store knew its actions were wrongful and discriminatory but did not award punitive damages to Edgardo Rivera and Joel Molina Torres.

Rivera, 40, and Torres, 34, both of Bangor were fired in 2007. Both had worked at the company’s Bangor store on Springer Drive near the Bangor Mall in the maintenance and receiving departments, respectively.

“While our country has made enormous strides, unfortunately we do not live in a colorblind society,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Jeffrey Neil Young of Topsham, said Friday in a press release about the case. “Edgardo Rivera worked for Burlington Coat Factory for two years and in the trial testimony of the former store manager, was a ‘great’ employee. Joel Molina had worked at the store for six months without a problem. Nevertheless, when merchandise was returned to the store which had been stolen, the district manager accused them of being associated somehow with the theft based on their Puerto Rican ancestry.”

According to Young, the “Caucasian cashiers” who recognized the alleged thief received a warning on a cash register before processing return transactions from him but completed them anyway and were not disciplined.

Thad B. Zmistowski, the Bangor lawyer who represented Burlington Coat Factory, said Friday in an email that his client was disappointed with the jury’s verdict.

“Burlington Coat Factory is committed to a workplace free of discrimination in all its forms,” he said. “That is why it was heartened when the Maine Human Rights Commission, the state body charged with investigating allegations of employment discrimination, unanimously concluded that no employment discrimination occurred in this case. Unfortunately, by law, the commission’s result does not preclude complainants from filing an action in court and knowledge of the Maine Human Rights Commission judgment was purposefully kept from the jury who decided the case.”

U.S. District Judge George Singal, who presided over the four-day trial, must consider whether the men should be reinstated to their former jobs, according to Young.

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