The Fifth Circuit takes up the question of when it might constitute race discrimination (under 42 U.S.C. § 1981) for a union not to pursue a theory of race discrimination in a grievance proceeding. The Fifth Circuit affirms summary judgment of the local union and union representative, holding that it was not an "adverse action" in this case, but in the particular setting where the employee himself got to present a discrimination theory on his own behalf.
In Title VII retaliation actions, courts often focus on "temporal proximity" - the closeness in time between the protected activity and the employer retaliation - as circumstantial evidence of causation. But this shorthand can be misleading. In this case, the Seventh Circuit reminds us that an employer may be held liable under this provision even where there has been a substantial gap between a complaint of race discrimination and the employee's termination. Here, the manager who brought down the axe down on the employee believed that the employee had raised a fresh complaint, even though the record was otherwise.
An employer can have the best anti-harassment policy that money can buy, at least on paper, but if it enforces the policy unevenly, the result can be even more legal trouble.