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KB Enterprises, LLC v. Montana Human Rights Commission

Supreme Court of Montana

June 4, 2019

KB ENTERPRISES, LLC, d/b/a SNAPPITZ, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
MONTANA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION and JERRY JAMES BRIGHT, Respondents and Appellees.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 24, 2019

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Third Judicial District, In and For the County of Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Cause No. DV-18-32 Honorable Ray J. Dayton, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Cynthia L. Walker, Poore, Roth & Robinson, P.C., Butte, Montana

          For Appellee Jerry James Bright: J. Ben Everett, Everett Law, PLLC, Anaconda, Montana

          OPINION

          INGRID GUSTAFSON JUSTICE

         ¶1 KB Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Snappitz (KB) appeals the Order Affirming Final Agency Decision Issued by the Montana Human Rights Commission issued by the Third Judicial District Court, Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, on September 21, 2018. We affirm.

         ¶2 We restate the issue on appeal as follows:

Did the District Court err in affirming the Final Agency Decision of the Montana Human Rights Commission?

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 KB owns and operates a fabrication business in Anaconda which makes insulated pipe fittings. Appellee Jerry James Bright (Bright) is an African American man who worked as a fabricator at KB from January 2015 until April 2016. Dave Gustafson (Gustafson)[1] was Bright's supervisor during Bright's employment at KB. On four occasions-in March 2015, June 2015, November 2015, and April 2016-Gustafson either directly called or referred to Bright as a "nigger" while the two were at work. Bright quit his job at KB following the April 2016 incident with Gustafson and filed a racial discrimination complaint against KB with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry's Human Rights Bureau (HRB).

         ¶4 On April 20 and 21, 2017, Office of Administrative Hearings Hearing Officer David A. Scrimm held a contested case hearing on the matter. Bright, Gustafson, Kevin Beck, Josh Blaz, Travis Scholler, and Misty Franklin testified at the hearing. On October 10, 2017, the Hearing Officer issued his Hearing Officer Decision and Notice of Issuance of Administrative Decision, which found that Bright was subjected to racial discrimination in his employment by KB. The Hearing Officer awarded Bright $18, 357.70 in lost wage damages and $20, 000.00 in emotional distress damages.

         ¶5 KB appealed the Hearing Officer's decision to the Montana Human Rights Commission (HRC). After briefing and a hearing, the HRC adopted the Hearing Officer's decision in full as its Final Agency Decision. KB then filed a petition for judicial review in the District Court. After briefing and a hearing, the District Court upheld the HRC's Final Agency Decision and dismissed KB's petition for judicial review. KB appeals.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶6 The Montana Administrative Procedures Act (MAPA) governs actions before the HRC. Bollinger v. Billings Clinic, 2019 MT 42, ¶ 26, 394 Mont. 338, 434 P.3d 885. MAPA ...


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