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Noose case: Fired Oregon worker to get job back

PORTLAND — An arbiter has ordered the state of Oregon to give back a job to an African-American who accused co-workers of throwing “Heil Hitler” salutes and leaving a noose at his workstation in the state liquor agency's warehouse, The Oregonian reported Friday.

The worker, 40-year-old Gene Summerfield, accused the Oregon Liquor Control Commission of discrimination in 2012, and it fired him after an investigation.

He lost on most points of a $1 million lawsuit and was awarded no damages.

But arbitrator James Lundberg ruled on Monday that he should be returned to his job with back pay and interest.

In the arbitration conducted under federal labor law, state lawyers accused Summerfield of selling drugs in the workplace, loan-shark lending to co-workers and threats against them, and conspiring to steal cognac.

Lundberg rejected the allegations.

“In fact,” he wrote, “not a single allegation could be sustained in this case by a preponderance of the credible evidence.”

Summerfield's doctors say he should not to return to the warehouse job for the sake of his mental health, so he's likely to be placed in a job outside the liquor agency's control, said his lawyer, Beth Creighton.

The state Department of Justice, which represented the liquor agency, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Summerfield went to work at the warehouse full time in 2007 after having served almost seven years for delivery of drugs, assault, and unauthorized use of a weapon, according to Department of Corrections records.

In his lawsuit, he described acts in the warehouse including racial epithets within earshot. Former warehouse workers testified that employees goose-stepped and threw Nazi salutes and once remarked to an African American worker that the clipper ship depicted on bottles of Cutty Sark Scotch Whisky was a slave ship.

The warehouse is in Milwaukie and employed more than 50 workers when Summerfield worked there. Under the state's monopoly, it handles almost every bottle of distilled spirits sold in Oregon.

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Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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