Castleberry v. STI Group, No. 16-3131 (3d Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs, two African-American men, were hired by STI, a staffing agency, as general laborers, for Chesapeake oil and natural gas company. Shortly thereafter, the only other African-American male on the crew was fired. Plaintiffs allege that: when they arrived at work on several occasions, someone had anonymously written “don’t be black on the right of way” on the sign-in sheets; although they have more experience working on pipelines than their non-African-American coworkers, they were only permitted to clean around the pipelines rather than work on them; and, when working on a fence-removal project, a supervisor stated that if they had “niggerrigged” the fence, they would be fired. Plaintiffs reported the offensive language and were fired two weeks later without explanation. They were rehired shortly thereafter, but terminated again for “lack of work.” Plaintiffs sued, alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, 42 U.S.C. 1981. The court dismissed, finding that the alleged harassment was not “pervasive and regular,” that there were not sufficient facts demonstrating intent to fire Plaintiffs because of their race, and that Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that an objectively reasonable person would have believed that the supervisor's comment was unlawful. The Third Circuit reversed, finding Plaintiffs’ harassment and retaliation claims plausible and that the district court incorrectly “jettisoned” the burden-shifting formula. The correct standard for evaluating harassment is “severe or pervasive.” A single incident can amount to unlawful activity.