Frank Ricci, Serial Plaintiff

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 plaintiff—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.

7 thoughts on “Frank Ricci, Serial Plaintiff

  1. So how does filing two law suits make one a “serial plaintiff”?

    And under what tort reform laws would Ricci not have been permitted to file suit in 1995 (his claim was that New Haven violated the Americans with Disabilities Act)?

    And why does filing two suits claiming discrimination make one a “hothead”? Regarding the Middletown business, you appear to be unaware of the fact that the town was indeed fined for safety violations of the sort that Ricci claimed he was fired for investigating.

    I see quite a few unproven assumptions here as well as plain old mistakes. For example, New Haven did NOT “use a written test as the entire criteria for promotion”. Instead, 40 percent of the criteria consisted of an oral examination — conducted by boards whose makeup was set to ensure that minorities constituted two-thirds of each board.

    Fwiw, I’m a liberal and I find the attempt to demonize Ricci in this fashion to be pretty appalling.

  2. smitheus — and you were doing so well until that last paragraph. You had to clue us in that you are a concern troll, huh? You missed the point about tort reform entirely. I’ll correct the “written test” to “written and oral test,” which makes absolutely no difference to the point.

    Good bye.

  3. My problem with Lithwick is that she didn’t delve into the specifics of either lawsuit. Instead we are to believe that just filing the suits should somehow be enough to discredit Ricci.

    Were these bad lawsuits though? In the first one, it seems that Ricci passed it, and he claims he was discriminated against because he said he was dyslexic, which these days would almost certainly be illegal. In the second suit there was some stuff about his being a whistleblower — very different stuff indeed, and yet Lithwick doesn’t bother to check on it in any way.

    How many serially litigious women has Lithwick depended on in some fashion to break down barriers? Worse, since when is it a crime for a citizen to seek redress in the courts?

    If this had been a woman, would we be now tsk tsking her lawsuits or would we instead be talking about a history of discrimination of the sort that the disabled face and women face? If this had been a woman in a rape trial, what would we say about anyone who brought up her past history or her past history in court?

    But Maha, good on you for noticing that Lithwick’s article appeared after the PFAW call. So then, can you address that? Should Lithwick have played along? Should you have?

    One thing that I think we both could agree is interesting is visiting and searching for Frank Ricci and sorting by recent behavior. Right now it’s overwhelmingly right wing blogs complaining about left wing blogs and pundits smearing Ricci with his litigious background, of course, what’s interesting is how few left wing blogs have actually “smeared” Ricci at this moment in time. As I write this, in the first many pages of results, it seems that Lithwick, Digby, Brian Beutler and you are about the only ones to leap in versus tens if not hundreds of conservative blogs complaining about it. However, I suspect that in the next 24/48/72 hours it will change and I do consider that a shame and counterproductive.

  4. Ricci got all that he could ever possibly gain by the Supreme Court’s decision. The fact that he’s supposed to testify at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing shows me that he’s either a glory hound attempting to capitalize on his newfound notoriety , or is seeking some sort of misdirected vengeance. In either case a character flaw in his nature will pronounced. I personally think he’s suffering from an acute case of Joe the Plumber syndrome.

  5. I support this firefighter. He was denied a job because of his race. He has every right under the equal protection clause to file that suit.

    I find the following statement incorrect:

    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.

    First of all, you can’t legally give away constitutionally protected rights. There are numerous cases thus precedent that support this. For instance if you live in a company owned town you can’t give away the right to free speech. “Tort reform” has nothing to do with civil rights cases. Plus 66% of American favor the supreme court decision for Ricci. Ironically the public also seems to support some affirmative action according to polls.

    I guess my point is that this blog is ill-informed and way off base.

  6. Actually, the reason the written/oral exam was the entire criteria for promotion was that was the agreement the city had with the firefighters union.

    Fair or unfair the city couldn’t unilaterally change the criteria.

  7. Crawdad, Sumilong, and don’t want to alert you: You are all missing the point. Your basic blindness/ignorance is summed up in Sumilong’s comment, “First of all, you can’t legally give away constitutionally protected rights.”

    In fact, people all the time give away constitutionally protected rights. We have, for example, a right under the Seventh Amendment to file personal injury lawsuits, which is what Ricci did. However, the Right for years has pushed for “tort reform” laws, many of which amount of people giving away their constitutionally protected rights to sue.

    In some states now people who have suffered real grievances, been ripped off by contractors, for example, can no longer file a personal injury suit, but must go through an arbitration system that is set up to favor the defendant. In many states the right to sue has been tightly limited by extremely short statutes of limitations and requirements designed to make filing a suit extremely burdensome.

    Most of these limitations affect cases brought under state law, not federal law, and current thinking is that the Seventh Amendment doesn’t apply to states. but the Right is clamoring for “tort reform” at federal level, too, even though most of what they want is blatantly unconstitutional.

Comments are closed.