It turns out that Frank Ricci of Ricci v. DeStefano fame is a serial lawsuit filer, the sort of guy the Right usually hoots at as being a “lawsuit abuser.” According to Dahlia Lithwick,
- Ricci filed his first lawsuit against the city of New Haven in 1995 for failing to hire him as a firefighter. He was one of 795 candidates interviewed for 40 jobs, and he claimed New Haven didn’t hire him because he is dyslexic. That case was settled in 1997 when Ricci withdrew his lawsuit in exchange for a job with the fire department and $11,143 in attorney’s fees.
- However, in 1997 Ricci left the New Haven fire department and went to work for Middletown’s fire department. He was dismissed from the Middletown job after 8 months. Ricci “appealed his dismissal, claiming that fire officials had retaliated against him for conducting an investigation into the department’s response to a controversial fire,” Lithwick says. The state Department of Labor cleared the Middletown FD of wrongdoing. The Hartford Courant record Ricci’s threats to sue the department, although he never did.
- Lithwick writes, “Ricci also tried to discredit his former boss, Chief Bartolotta, by disparaging his professional credentials. His fight over access to Bartolotta’s professional training records was resolved between the two of them a week before the matter was slated to be taken up with the state Freedom of Information Commission.”
- Eventually he was re-hired by the New Haven department, which he sued because he aced a promotion test but was not promoted.
My take on the test issue is that the New Haven fire department wasn’t fair to a lot of people, and while I don’t entirely disagree with the SCOTUS decision I don’t entirely disagree with the lower court decision, either. If you step back and look at the whole case, there are legitimate questions about how fair it was to experienced firefighters of any color to use a written [and oral] test as the entire criteria for promotion, for example. It’s one of those cases in which reasonable people can reasonably disagree.
However, Ricci does seem to be a hothead who is lucky to have had a job with the New Haven fire department at all. One suspects that a black firefighter with the same history of, um, contention with his employers might not have been hired back at New Haven and would now have a new career in the food services industry.
I’m surprised no one on the Right seems to have noticed that in some states that have passed strict “tort reform” laws, Ricci might not have been able to file the original suit against his employer.
Well, no, come to think of it, I’m not surprised at all. Righties have a wonderful gift for not connecting dots they don’t want to connect. But I think in some states that have passed “tort reform” laws, Ricci might have been forced into an arbitration system set up to favor the defendant. And we never would have heard of him, and now he’d have a new career in the food services industry. (If anyone knows anybody with some knowledge of state tort law, I’d love to hear from that person.)
Anyway, Lithwick writes,
Ultimately, there are two ways to frame Frank Ricci’s penchant for filing employment discrimination complaints: Perhaps he was repeatedly victimized by a cruel cadre of employers, first for his dyslexia, then again for his role as a whistle-blower, and then a third time for just being white. If that is so, we should all be deeply grateful for the robust civil rights laws that protect Americans from unfair discrimination in the workplace. I look forward to hearing Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s version of that speech next week.
The other way to look at Frank Ricci is as a serial plaintiffâ€”one who reacts to professional slights and setbacks by filing suit, threatening to file suit, and more or less complaining his way up the chain of command. That’s not the typical GOP heartthrob, but I look forward to hearing Sen. Cornyn’s version of that speech next week as well.
Ricci is supposed to testify at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing, which is absurd seeing that Sotomayor didn’t write an opinion on the lower court decision against Ricci. But Ricci is now the poster boy for reverse discrimination. He may find he has a new career McClatchy is reporting that People for the American Way are urging reporters to look into Ricci’s background and report on it. And, of course, the Right is whining about the politics of personal destruction, of which they are entirely innocent.
There is speculation that Frank Ricci could emerge as the new Joe the Plumber, now that even the Right seems bored with Joe the Plumber. If Ricci doesn’t fall on his face too badly at the hearings, start looking for “Palin-Ricci 2012” bumper stickers. All it takes is a grievance and a dream.