In the December 2013 issue of Briefing Room, we reported on the decision in Horne v. District Council 16 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (2013) 221 Cal.App.4th 1132.  The California Supreme Court has granted review in that case.

Horne, who is African-American, served as a member of his union's executive board, was an officer of his union, and served as a member of the council for many years.  In 2009, Horne applied for an organizer position with the council but did not receive the position.  The position went to a Caucasian man.  In February 2010, Horne applied for an organizer position again, but was not hired.  Again, the position went to a Caucasian man. 

Horne sued the Council for racial discrimination.  During discovery, Horne admitted that he had been convicted of possession of narcotics in 1997.  He served a prison term for his conviction and was paroled in 2003.  Horne stated that his citizenship rights had been fully restored but admitted that he was not allowed to possess a firearm.  The Council did not know these facts when it failed to hire him in February 2010.  The Council demanded that Horne dismiss his lawsuit because federal law barred anyone with a narcotics conviction from employment as an organizer.  Horne did not dismiss the lawsuit.

The trial court granted the Council's motion for summary judgment.  Since Horne did not show he was qualified for the organizer job, he was unable to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.  Additionally, since Horne did not have the right to carry a firearm, the trial court found his citizenship rights had not been fully restored.  Horne appealed.

The Court of Appeal for the First District found there was undisputed evidence that Horne was not qualified for the organizer position because federal law precludes any person with a narcotics conviction from serving as a labor organizer.  However, when the Council decided not to hire Horne in February 2010, it was unaware of the prior narcotics conviction.  The Court of Appeal concluded that evidence of Horne's statutory disqualification from the job was not barred by the after-acquired evidence doctrine.  Since the issue was not the employer's motive but whether Horne was qualified, the Court of Appeal held that the evidence of disqualification was relevant no matter when the employer acquired that information.  It denied Horne's challenge that the evidence was inadmissible.

Horne also challenged the determination that he was not qualified for the organizer job.  Under federal law, an individual convicted of a barring offense is ineligible to work as a union organizer for thirteen years, unless his or her citizenship rights have been fully restored.  The Court of Appeal held that Horne had to reacquire all of the civil rights he had before his conviction, which included the right to possess firearms, before his citizenship rights could be considered fully restored.  Therefore, Horne was not qualified for the organizer position and he could not establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination. 

In his dissent, Justice Humes stated that the disqualification from the job did not prevent Horne from satisfying his burden to establish a prima facie case because disqualification played no part in the Council's decision to reject him from the position.  Justice Humes believed that after-acquired evidence did not negate the employer's discriminatory intent and therefore did not defeat Horne's claim.  

If the Supreme Court reverses the Court of Appeal's decision, then the after-acquired evidence doctrine will preclude evidence that was unknown to the employer at the time it made its employment decision.  After-acquired evidence will not be used to break apart a plaintiff's prima facie case in employment discrimination cases.  We will keep you updated with this case as it proceeds.

Horne v. International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (2014) 168 Cal.Rptr.3d 195.