Civil rights suit against university's cafeteria service moved to federal court

By Lawrence Smith | Jun 23, 2011

CHARLESTON –- The claim made by the former manager of a Charleston-area university's food service provider he was the victim of anti-immigrant fervor will now have to proven in federal court.

Christopher Saldivar's civil rights suit against AVI Foodsystems Inc. was transferred from Kanawha Circuit to U.S. District Court following a notice of removal filed by AVI's attorney Erica L. Clarke with the Pittsburgh law firm of Littler Mendelson.

In her notice filed June 17, Clarke cited not only the jurisdiction of the federal courts in hearing claims of racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but also the likelihood the amount damages Saldivar seeks will exceed $75,000 and that the parties are from separate states.

AVI has its corporate office in Warren, Ohio, and Saldivar lives on the campus of West Virginia State University in Institute where AVI has a contract to provide cafeteria and catering services.

In his complaint filed May 26, Saldivar maintains he worked for AVI at its WVSU location as its retail manager. He does not specify when he began his employment.

Nevertheless, he states that it was terminated on March 28, 2010. The reason given, he says, was based on allegations he was distributing drugs while on the job.

Though in his complaint Saldivar admits to giving another employee an Advil while off the job, he avers during his employment with AVI he never possessed, sold or distributed any illegal drugs.

In fact, Saldivar avers AVI "utilized a falsely induced statement of an individual who had no comprehension of reading or writing."

Also, he alleges that AVI singled him out by terminating him while other employees who committed more serious infractions of company policy where allowed to transfer to other locations.

However, Saldivar alleges the drug issue was merely a ruse for getting rid of him. He alleges AVI fired him in an effort to purge Mexican-Americans like himself from the company "during the time of elevated hostile environment created by the countrywide issue of immigration reform."

Regardless, Saldivar alleges AVI did not follow disciplinary procedures in its employee handbook before firing him.

He maintains AVI's actions have not only defamed his character by falsely labeling him as a drug dealer, but also has "impacted his mental and emotional state of being" by in creating a burden for him finding another job.

Along with unspecified damages including back pay and reinstatement, Saldivar seeks a court order prohibiting AVI from engaging in any future discrimination. He is pursing the case pro se.

The case, which was originally assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles E. King, Jr., is now assigned to U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, case number 11-cv-424

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