In 1995, Laverne Robinson was fired from his job as a sales manager at Ottenberg’s Bakery, one of the District’s biggest bread distributors. Six years later, he won a nearly $350,000 racial discrimination judgment from the D.C. Commission on Human Rights. Now, after another five years of litigation, a division of the D.C. Court of Appeals has said that Robinson can’t get that money. The reason? Ottenberg’s had offered him his old job back soon after his firing, and he refused to take it.
“I just couldn’t believe some of the things I heard [on the job],” Robinson says. “It was nothing for them—-the black guys and the white guys—-to be using racial slurs.” The commission ruled in Robinson’s favor in 2001 and awarded him $348,825 in damages, back pay, and front pay. Ottenberg’s appealed, and the appeals court reversed the decision in March.
“It is undisputed that Robinson had received favorable evaluations, promotions, and pay increases,” the judges wrote. “A finding that Robinson’s rejection [of the rehire offer] was objectively reasonable is not supported by the evidence.” An attorney for the bakery declined to comment, and now Robinson wants to be heard by the full appeals court.
“The division’s decision, as written, will harm not only Mr. Robinson,” his lawyers wrote in their petition for a rehearing, “but all other future victims of discrimination in this jurisdiction.”