Discrimination suit vs IPI under advisement


The federal court has placed under advisement a race discrimination lawsuit filed against Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC by IPI’s former employee.

After a motion hearing Wednesday afternoon in Joshua Gray’s lawsuit, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said a written decision would be forthcoming.

William Fitzgerald argued as counsel for Gray. Kelley Butcher argued in support of IPI’s motion to dismiss the case.

Gray, who is an African American, is suing IPI for alleged wrongful termination in violation of public policy (immigration violations), race discrimination, wrongful failure to hire, and infliction of emotional distress.

IPI has denied the allegations.

Butcher argued that Gray merely asserts a broad violation of “immigration laws,” yet fails to tie his complaint to an established CNMI or federal law. Without citing a specific statute upon which Gray can base his claim, his claim must be dismissed, Butcher said.

Also, since Gray failed to file a charge within 180 days of the act of discrimination, his claims fail and this claim must be dismissed, Butcher said.

She said the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim must be dismissed as a matter of law and should be barred by the exclusivity provisions of the CNMI Workman’s Compensation Act.

In Gray’s opposition to the motion to dismiss, Fitzgerald said IPI has failed to make a case that plaintiff’s action should be dismissed at this stage of the proceedings.

Fitzgerald said Gray has alleged sufficient facts to make a plausible claim that IPI terminated him because of his warnings and complaints to them about their violations of immigration laws and that they had a policy to discriminate against non-Asian employees, which was directed at him and resulted in his termination and replacement by an Asian woman.

Fitzgerald said the motion to dismiss the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim should be denied on the grounds that it is a question of fact whether racial discrimination suffered by Gray rises to the level of outrageous conduct.

Fitzgerald asserted that it is beyond dispute that intentional infliction of emotional distress is not subject to the CNMI Workers’ Compensation law.

According to the complaint, Gray was allegedly informed in March and April 2018 that his job responsibilities would be changed to assist with a “floating hotel.”

The “floating hotel” was allegedly IPI’s project that never materialized. Gray complained to IPI’s legal counsel that this assignment was a demotion—a complaint that was allegedly ignored.

In January 2019, a senior executive of IPI allegedly told Gray that he was instructed to fire him, but he (senior executive) refused to do so.

The owner of IPI allegedly then informed this senior executive that he wanted Gray fired and that a Chinese woman, Lucy Guo, a non-U.S. citizen, would handle the hotel operations.

Fitzgerald said IPI terminated Gray’s employment on Jan. 24, 2019. The termination, Fitzgerald said, was clearly in retaliation.

In late 2017, Gray allegedly complained to IPI that the company was violating immigration law and CNMI public policy by failing to hire qualified U.S. and local applicants.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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