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Judge who dismissed racial slur claim as ‘surprising to Colonel Sanders’ gets sensitivity lesson

Posted Jan 15, 2013 8:14 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has a message for U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Texas: A remark about President Barack Obama and fried chicken does indeed have a racial component.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals criticized Hughes in an opinion (PDF) that nonetheless upholds his decision to dismiss a racial bias case, Texas Lawyer’s Tex Parte Blog reports. Hughes had commented that no black “owns the sensitivity rights to fried chicken” and an assertion to the contrary would be “really surprising to Colonel Sanders.” (The opinion attributed the remarks to the district judge and did not identify Hughes by name.)

The plaintiff in the case, Albert Autry, had alleged the job he sought in a facilities department at a school district was given to a less-qualified white woman. During his interview, Autry alleged, the facilities manager made a comment that Barack Obama would ruin the country if he gets elected.

After his interview, Autry said, another employee on the interview committee had told him that the manager went further in his disparaging remarks about Obama. If Obama is elected, the manager had allegedly said, “they’re going to have to take the Statute of Liberty and put a piece of fried chicken in [its] hand.” (The manager had denied the statements.)

The school district had challenged the comment as hearsay, but Hughes dismissed it as political, the 5th Circuit said. “No black individually and no blacks collectively owns [sic] the sensitivity rights to fried chicken or anything else,” he said.

When Autry’s lawyer suggested the alleged reference to fried chicken was “a long-standing racial slur,” Hughes replied, “That’s really surprising to Colonel Sanders.”

According to the 5th Circuit, “The district judge’s comment misses the mark, as it overlooks the racial component of Johnson’s alleged statement.” The court agreed, however, that the testimony was “without force in the face of a motion for summary judgment.” The court said it could find no evidence that impermissible racial considerations were the reason Autry was passed over.

Though the 5th Circuit affirmed dismissal, it overturned an award of attorney fees, saying the suit was not frivolous or without foundation.

Hughes did not comment when contacted by Tex Parte. A lawyer for the school district, Paul Lamp, told the blog that Hughes is a well-respected judge who is who is “extremely qualified” to hear Title VII cases.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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