- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - “Hispanic” denotes a race for purposes of deciding if anti-discrimination laws apply to the appointment of a Long Island police chief, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan reached the conclusion in a case that evolved after then-Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick in 2009 appointed Miguel Bermudez as the village’s new police chief.

Christopher Barrella, a white police lieutenant, sued the village and Hardwick, who is black, saying Barrella was not promoted because of his race.

Finding discrimination, a jury in May 2014 awarded the lieutenant over $1.3 million.

In a decision written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes, a three-judge panel said it had been clear since the 1980s that federal law bars employers from discriminating based on Hispanic ethnicity or the lack of it.

It did however order a new trial on the grounds that the trial judge improperly permitted two witnesses to speculate from the witness stand about Hardwick’s motivations without knowing the facts.

Attorney Ken Novikoff said Hardwick is confident he will be vindicated at a retrial, and attorney Keith Corbett said on behalf of the village he looked “forward to a complete vindication of our client’s rights.”

Barella’s lawyer, Amanda Fugazy, said the appeals ruling “confirms each and every one of our client’s legal claims.”

“With this decision squarely in our favor on all legal issues, we are confident that the new jury will find the same as the last jury and will fairly compensate Lieutenant Barrella for the employment discrimination he suffered,” she said.

In discussing the issue of race and ethnicity, the 2nd Circuit traced the history of what it called the federal government’s “less-than-straightforward” use of those terms.

“Compounding the confusion, the relevant terminology has changed substantially over time,” the appeals court said.

It noted that the Census Bureau in 1930 counted the “Mexican” race, but has not done so before or since because many civil rights including the right to be an American citizen depended on whiteness, and in the 1950s began tracking other Spanish-heritage groups under the denomination of “persons of Spanish surname.”

“As a result, many writers quickly adopted alternative terms that remain current today: ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino,’” the court said.

Yet, the 2nd Circuit said, the executive branch of government may disagree with its interpretation since the federal government “generally treats ‘Hispanic’ as a national origin, not as a race.”

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