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MCAD rules ‘probable cause’ in court case

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MCAD rules ‘probable cause’ in court case
Former court officer Thomas Flint stands in front of his old workplace, the South Boston Courthouse. The Roxbury native worked for the Massachusetts trial court for more than 20 years until he was fired in September 2009. (Photo: Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil)

Good things come to those who wait. After two excruciating years, former court officer Thomas Flint finally received the news — a ruling of “probable cause” in his racial discrimination case.

The 44-year-old Roxbury native had served as a Massachusetts court officer for more than two decades until he was abruptly fired in November 2009.

Suspecting racial discrimination, Flint immediately filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), and on Christmas Eve 2011, received notification, “a finding of probable cause is hereby entered for Flint’s race discrimination claims against the Massachusetts Trial Court.”

Flint’s 2009 termination was based on a white junior court officer’s allegation that Flint verbally assaulted him in a back room of the South Boston Courthouse. “He then raised his voice and began to rant,” the accuser, John Donahue, wrote in a letter to Chief Court Officer Joseph Casey. “During this period, of about 30 to 45 minutes, he made various accusations and numerous personal attacks.”

Flint insists that no altercation took place. The South Boston Courthouse, he points out, is small and has thin walls, so such an exchange would have easily been heard by anyone in the building.

But no witnesses corroborate Donahue’s accusations. Moreover, the presiding judge, who was seated on his bench about 15 feet from where the alleged incident took place, said he never heard anything.

At his disciplinary hearing about a month later, only one witness was called — Donohue, the accuser. No one from Flint’s witness list was questioned, but Director of Security Thomas Connolly concluded, “I credit Court Officer Donohue’s version of the incident” and “discredit your [Flint’s] version of the incident.” Flint was immediately fired.

“The basis is that if the white person said it, then it must be true,” Flint’s lawyer, James Dilday, wrote in one of his many correspondences with the MCAD. “And that was a plantation mentality that was exercised by Mr. Connolly.”

Flint grew up in Orchard Park, Roxbury, and at the age of 13, lost his 15-year-old brother, James, to violence. He graduated from South Boston High School and completed a year of college at Northeastern University before dropping out in order to work and support his young son.

Flint now has two sons, ages 21 and 24, and a 4-year-old granddaughter and a 1-month-old grandson.

Flint filed his complaint immediately after his termination, and even when it became clear to him that the MCAD was dragging their heels, he refused to give up.

“I think he did the manly thing to do, and he fought and went up against the system,” his mother, Sarah Flint, said. “Still, it’s been really hard for him. Losing a job is like losing a life,” she went on, explaining that her son went through many of the same emotions as when his older brother was killed.

After his termination, Flint was unable to find work and relied on unemployment checks and family assistance.

Flint tried to gather community support around his case, and appeared in the Banner in February 2011 and Touch 106.1 FM a few months later. He also appealed to several local politicians and the NAACP.

City Councilor-At-Large Felix Arroyo said he became a “squeaky wheel” for his case, and called the MCAD numerous times to urge them to make a decision.

“I think he and everyone else is entitled to due process, and felt that it was important for MCAD to make a decision,” Arroyo said. “We did our very best not to influence what the decision would be, but to say, ‘this guy’s been waiting two years now and deserves a decision.’ We must have due process if justice is to happen.”

Another boost came from Gov. Deval Patrick. When the governor came to Boston for a gathering in Savin Hill in the spring of 2011, Flint made sure to run into him so he could explain his dilemma. “He [Patrick] introduced me to his aide and said to him, ‘His case is stuck in MCAD, unstuck it,’ ” Flint recalls.

The governor’s office, which confirmed Flint’s version of the story, then contacted the MCAD to put pressure on the office to make a decision. And sure enough, weeks later, Flint had a ruling. But not the one he wanted — the MCAD ruled “no probable cause” for racial discrimination.

“I’ll never forget it,” Flint said. “I was so sad, I was crying, I was in disbelief. I couldn’t understand their decision because I never had an investigative hearing and I had so much evidence to prove the contrary.”

The MCAD never contacted Flint before making their decision to get his side of the story.

“I read the letter over again, and realized through the MCAD’s wording that they didn’t investigate it properly,” he explained.

For instance, the MCAD claimed Flint had a history of disciplinary problems — justifying his dismissal — and cited a suspension that Connolly also wrote about in his termination letter.

However, that suspension had been held in abeyance for three months, and was later killed.

“That’s how I knew that they didn’t investigate,” Flint said. “Because they would have looked into that suspension and seen that it never actually happened. They just transferred that over from what Connolly was saying.”

Flint and his lawyer immediately put in an appeal with the MCAD, and received a hearing in August 2011. “We brought up the fact that I didn’t receive a proper investigative hearing to show the MCAD my evidence,” Flint said.

The only person from the Massachusetts Trial Court to show up was the Court’s lawyer.

Finally, four months later, on Christmas Eve, Flint received a call from the MCAD and his decision was read to him over the phone. “When I heard the words ‘reverse’ and ‘probable cause,’ I immediately dropped to my knees and prayed,” Flint said.

The MCAD would not comment on the reasons for reversing their initial decision, but Media Liaison Barbara Green explained: “The next step to be taken is a conciliation conference that is mandatory for both complainant and respondent. Should conciliation fail, the case will be certified for public hearing.”

Connolly did not respond to requests for an interview.

Sarah Flint hopes the ruling means her son will get his job back.

“He loved what he did and he was good and what he did,” she said.

But Flint is looking for something more basic. “I’m hoping to get my life back, so that I can feel like I’m a human being again,” he said. “Like I’m a man.”