Yesterday in my Morning Maybe diary, I quoted from Talking Points Memo on Frank Ricci, about his history of filing lawsuit--"Ricci was for 'special rights' before he was against them," I wrote, referring to the fact that he was hired in the first place only after he sued to take the place of someone who scored better than him. Why? Because he was dyslexic.
And this poor sideswitching professional "victim" is the GOP's silver buller witness against Sonia Sotomayor?
But that was only part of the story, as Dahlia Lithwick points out at Slate. Ricci's sued his employers on other occassions as well. Heck, one might even say he had a penchant for frivilous lawsuits, that is, if he was a woman, or a Puerto Rican....
Ricci is invariably painted as a reluctant standard-bearer; a hardworking man driven to litigation only when his dreams of promotion were shattered by a system that persecutes white men. This is the narrative we will hear next week, but it somewhat oversimplifies Ricci's actual employment story. For instance, it's not precisely true, as this one account would have it, that Frank Ricci "never once [sought] special treatment for his dyslexia challenge." In point of fact, Ricci sued over it.
According to local newspapers, Ricci filed his first lawsuit against the city of New Haven in 1995, at the ripe old age of 20, for failing to hire him as a firefighter. That January, the Hartford Chronicle reported that Ricci sued, saying "he was not hired because he is dyslexic." The complaint in that suit, filed in federal court, alleged that the city's failure to hire Ricci because of his dyslexia violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Frank Ricci was one of 795 candidates interviewed for 40 jobs. According to his complaint, the reason he was not hired was that he disclosed his dyslexia in an interview. That case was settled in 1997 with a confidential settlement in which Ricci withdrew his lawsuit in exchange for a job with the fire department and $11,143 in attorney's fees.
But, as indicated above, that was only the beginning:
In 1998, Ricci was talking about filing lawsuits again, this time over a dispute with his new employer, Middletown's South Fire District-which had hired him in August of 1997. According to a Hartford Courant report of Aug. 11, 1998, Ricci was dismissed from the Middletown fire department after only eight months. He promptly appealed his dismissal, claiming that fire officials had retaliated against him for conducting an investigation into the department's response to a controversial fire. A story in the Hartford Courant dated Aug. 9, 1997, has Ricci vowing "to pursue this to the fullest extent of the law."
In August of 1998, a state Department of Labor investigation cleared Chief Wayne S. Bartolotta of any wrongdoing in the firing. The Aug. 3, 1998, letter from the state Department of Labor indicated that the case was closed with a finding of no violation. "After a thorough investigation, it was determined that the South Fire District did not discriminate against Mr. Ricci." Ricci's response? According to the Courant, Ricci contended "Their decision was political, it has nothing to do with who was right and who was wrong." He told the paper he would "pursue the matter in civil court."
Ricci also tried to discredit his former boss, Chief Bartolotta, by disparaging his professional credentials. His fight over access to Bartolotta's professional training records was resolved between the two of them a week before the matter was slated to be taken up with the state Freedom of Information Commission, according to a Jan. 13, 1998, report in the Hartford Courant.
Eventually, Ricci made his way back to the New Haven Fire Department, where he famously aced his promotions test, then sued, yet again, in 2004.
Clearly, under different circumstances, Frank Ricci might have emerged as the conservative's poster boy for attacking "frivolous lawsuits."
Ultimately, there are two ways to frame Frank Ricci's penchant for filing employment discrimination complaints: Perhaps he was repeatedly victimized by a cruel cadre of employers, first for his dyslexia, then again for his role as a whistle-blower, and then a third time for just being white. If that is so, we should all be deeply grateful for the robust civil rights laws that protect Americans from unfair discrimination in the workplace. I look forward to hearing Republican Sen. John Cornyn's version of that speech next week.
The other way to look at Frank Ricci is as a serial plaintiff-one who reacts to professional slights and setbacks by filing suit, threatening to file suit, and more or less complaining his way up the chain of command. That's not the typical GOP heartthrob, but I look forward to hearing Sen. Cornyn's version of that speech next week as well.
Without actually realizing it, it seems like the GOP has gotten itself into quite a pickle.
But Lithwick is wrong about one thing--when she says that someone threatening and complaining their way up the chain of command "not the typical GOP heartthrob." Indeed, that's the very essence of the politics of white resentment on which the Reagan Revolution was built. And who better to further stoke the fires of that resentment than dear, dear, Sarah Palin, whose complaints have reached the point of utter incoherence, so that nothing more than the fact that they are complaints can be ascertained for certain?
This is not some minor contradiction to be snickered at along the way to the "real issues." This is the real issue. Conservative privilege, conservative double-standards, and the conservative culture of complaint are fundamentally opposed to the American belief in promoting the common welfare and "liberty and justice for all." And until we have Democrats in Congress pounding on this 24/7, we need to be all over them about why they are not.