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Case Number: 14-2270
Judge: JOSÉ A. C ABRANES
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on appeal from the Eastern District of New York (Nassau Count)
Defendant's Attorney: Keith Michael Corbett, Christopher D. Palmieri, Christopher D. Palmieri
Description: Central Islip, New York civil rights lawyer represented Plaintiff, who sued Defendants on job discrimination theories.
This case asks us to resolve a vexed and recurring question:
what does it mean to be Hispanic? Specifically, it presents the
question of whether “Hispanic” describes a race for purposes of
§ 1981 and Title VII.
Defendants the Village of Freeport, NY (“Freeport” or “the
Village”) and its former mayor, Andrew Hardwick (“Hardwick”),
appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the
Eastern District of New York (Arthur D. Spatt, Judge) following a jury
verdict for plaintiff Christopher Barrella (“Barrella”). Barrella had
sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law
(“NYSHRL”), N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et seq., alleging that Hardwick
had not appointed him chief of police because Barrella was a white
Italian‐American, and that Hardwick had instead appointed a less‐
Based on longstanding Supreme Court and Second Circuit
precedent, we reiterate that “race” includes ethnicity for purposes of
§ 1981, so that discrimination based on Hispanic ancestry or lack
thereof constitutes racial discrimination under that statute. We also
hold that “race” should be defined the same way for purposes of
Outcome: To summarize, we hold as follows:
(1) The meaning of “race” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and
Title VII is, like other questions of statutory interpretation, a
matter of law.
(2) As a matter of law, “Hispanic” is a race for purposes of
§ 1981 and Title VII.
a. Longstanding Supreme Court and Second Circuit
precedent defines “race,” for purposes of § 1981, as
encompassing ethnicity. Accordingly, it has been
clear at least since our decision in Albert v. Carovano,
851 F.2d 561 (2d Cir. 1988) (en banc), that § 1981
protects against discrimination based on ethnicity,
including Hispanic ethnicity or lack thereof.
b. Because it has been clearly established at least since
1988 that “Hispanic” describes a race for purposes of
§ 1981, we reject Hardwick’s assertion of qualified
immunity based on his claim that it was “objectively
reasonable” for him to believe that discrimination
based on Hispanic ethnicity did not constitute racial
discrimination under federal law.
c. Under Title VII, as with § 1981, “race” encompasses
ethnicity. Accordingly, a plaintiff who alleges
employment discrimination based on Hispanic
ethnicity or lack thereof may be able to state a claim
of racial discrimination within the meaning of Title
We therefore AFFIRM the judgment of the District Court
insofar as it denied defendants’ motions for judgment as a
matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of
(3) The District Court erred in admitting lay opinion testimony
that impermissibly speculated as to Hardwick’s reasons for
promoting Bermudez, in violation of Rule 701(b) of the
Federal Rules of Evidence.
a. Reviewing the District Court’s evidentiary rulings
under the so‐called “abuse of discretion” standard,
we conclude that the District Court erroneously
allowed lay witnesses to speculate that racial
considerations may have influenced Hardwick’s
appointment of Bermudez.
b. Because this was a factually close case, we conclude
that the District Court’s error prejudiced defendants,
and that a new trial is necessary. Accordingly, we
VACATE the District Court’s judgment and
REMAND to the District Court for a new trial
consistent with this opinion.