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Wisconsin Plaintiff’s Lawsuit Revived on Appeal

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Chicago, ILA Wisconsin employment lawsuit that may have been lost on a complex legal technicality will live on to see another day, following a ruling by a split panel of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.

The plaintiff in the Wisconsin labor case is Tracey Coleman. The defendant is the Wisconsin office of the Department of Labor Review Commission (DLRC). According to Court documents Coleman had been hired on as a maintenance technician at a Wisconsin high school, only to be let go from his position after about three weeks.

The principles at the high school and the associated school board assert that Coleman’s job was terminated due to accusations that Coleman had sexually harassed a fellow employee at the school. Coleman however claims that he was fired because he is African American.

After becoming dissatisfied with the manner in which the DLRC dealt with his termination, Coleman launched Wisconsin employment law litigation against the WLIRC for alleged violations of due process with regard to his complaint of wrongful termination and racial discrimination against the school.

Coleman, according to documents, consented to having a federal magistrate review his petition without paying a filing fee – ‘in forma pauperis’ – which Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin proceeded to undertake in 2015. Magistrate Duffin dismissed the case, indicating in his ruling that he was not able to “discern any plausible claim for relief that may be heard in federal court,” his ruling held.

Coleman appealed to the Seventh Circuit and it was there that his Wisconsin employment and labor lawsuit was revived. The reason, according to the majority of judges on the panel (two of the three), is that magistrates lack the authority to dismiss any action deemed to be frivolous without the defendant’s knowledge or consent.

When the federal magistrate, in 2015 considered Coleman’s case in forma pauperis, he did so at the request of the plaintiff without the knowledge or consent of the defendant.
The majority of the Seventh Circuit noted that the defendant would likely have agreed to any decision to dismiss – and indeed, made those views known to the appellate panel during the hearing. However, at the time the federal magistrate had made his ruling to dismiss, the DLRC had yet to be served with papers indicating the case was being heard in forma pauperis.

Because they had not been informed, or been given the opportunity to consent, the ruling of the magistrate was voided on appeal according to rules guaranteed by the US Constitution governing Congress-appointed Article III judges.

While the dissenting judge on the three-judge appellate panel viewed the majority ruling as a “waste of time,” the plaintiff’s Wisconsin state labor laws case is nonetheless revived.

The case is Tracey Coleman v. Department of Labor Review Commission, Case No. 15-3254, in the US Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit.

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