MANHATTAN (CN) - Cablevision should not have been let off the hook for firing their "only African-American operations manager" before a federal jury heard his discrimination claims, the 2nd Circuit ruled on Friday.
In 2009, the former employee, Garry Kirkland, filed a pro se lawsuit after the cable giant handed him his pink slip the previous year.
While Cablevision asserted that it based the decision on "poor performance reviews," Kirkland called that explanation a pretext for racial bias and retaliation.
Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska tossed his allegations in two separate rulings from 2012 and 2013.
On Friday, a unanimous three-judge panel found that Preska "overlooked evidence" supporting the claims.
"The record contains enough evidence that, if credited, could support a jury's finding that Cablevision's rationale for Kirkland's treatment and eventual termination was a pretext for illegal race discrimination and retaliation," the panel wrote in an 11-page ruling.
A large portion of the evidence detailed in the opinion comes from Kirkland's replacement, Kathryn Nivins, testifying about managing director Robert Cockerill.
Suspecting that Cockerill may be a "racist," Nivins said that a human resources employee said he had a reputation for being "known as KKK without the hood."
Nivins said that Cockerill told her that Kirkland got the boot for not disciplining the company's African-American regional managers.
Cockerill remarked that "they don't know how to police each other," she said.
Nivins, who is Asian-American, testified that Cockerill may have given her the job as a cover because she "ha[d] a black fiancé and [she] c[ould] fire black people in [Kirkland's former] region," according to the ruling. (Brackets in original)
The appellate court found that these allegations, and others detailed in the opinion, should have led to a trial.
"A jury might credit all of this proffered evidence, some of it, or none at all," the opinion states. "But that is 'left for the jury to decide at trial.'"
Lawyers for Cablevision did not respond to a request for comment by press time.