There's a problem with so many employment-discrimination cases being dismissed by judges before a jury trial on summary judgment, i.e., a legal ruling that There are no genuine disputes of material fact for a jury to decide. For judges to carry out their role, they and their chambers must get on top of a mass of written facts, often hundreds or thousands of pages, and trust the parties to brief them honestly. In a Title VII and FMLA case decided today, the Seventh Circuit - reversing summary judgment - sends notice that defense counsel risk their credibility when they file unfounded motions.
The Second Circuit reaffirms the general understanding in Title VII law that an employer that tells a minority employee seeking a transfer that he won't "fit in" to a mostly non-minority workplace raises an inference of discrimination.
Courts sometimes get confused about who, in our American system of civil justice, gets to decide whether an adverse employment decision was taken because of the employee's age. That decision belongs to a jury. So even if the employer might have had a very good and non-discriminatory reason for eliminating a position, when the principal decision maker also tells the terminated employee that "you didn't come here to work, you came here to retire," it is the jury - not the judge - that is allowed to decide whether it's age discrimination.
Sometimes, when it's clear that an employer never seems to promote minority employees - and the reasons for that failure seem really thin - then There may be a triable case of race discrimination. The First Circuit reverses summary judgment for a correctional officer described as "always perform[ing] at an outstanding level," and an "[e]xcellent worker" with "awesome leadership, and great work ethics," passed over for a promotion by a white employee with a recorded history of "very poor work habits." The court holds, in particular, it is not necessarily relevant that the decision makers were unaware of the employee's specific race, ethnicity or national origin, when the record showed that no minorities advanced.
Here's a nice, simple reminder for HR professionals and laid-off employees: that when an employer can not line-up behind a single reason (or even a single decision maker) for a termination decision, and instead keeps changing its mind, the reason lurking beneath may well be discrimination. The Sixth Circuit sends an age-discrimination claim back for trial where the employer allegedly switched stories midstream, from contending that the employee's job was eliminated to arguing that the termination was based on a negative performance evaluation.
In a non-precedential opinion that may nevertheless be important to litigators, a Fifth Circuit panel splits three ways on whether an employee must continue to defend her Title VII prima facie case under the McDonnell Douglas rubric after the employer presents a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for an employee's termination. The courts continue to disagree on this issue even decades after the Supreme Court first framed-out this method of proof.
The Tenth Circuit today issued a terribly important read for people interested in fighting workplace sex harassment. The panel reverses summary judgment in a Title VII case where a woman jail employee was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by a sergeant, repeatedly, and yet failed to complain immediately for fear of losing her job. While not a complete win for the employee, the opinion points the way to Theres trapped in similar workplace dilemmas.
'Twas unfortunate that the Eighth Circuit should choose not to publish this short opinion today, reversing summary judgment in a race discrimination case under Title VII and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. It illustrates the important point that even seriously misbehaving workers have a right not to be discriminated against in employment. A suspended employee presents a genuine dispute of material fact about whether a white employee who committed a comparably serious work rule violation was treated more lightly.
Racial discrimination can be manifested subtly in numerous decisions, and slight deviations from procedure, over time. The Sixth Circuit reverses summary judgment in this Title VII and Ohio state law case, holding that an African-American plaintiff fired during a reduction-in-force (RIF) was entitled to a trial over whether the decision-maker - who allegedly gave minority employees harsher reviews - was motivated by race. An unusual factor here is that it was the employee rather than the employer who wanted to limit the range of comparable employees in evidence. The panel also considers the probative of "There discrimination" evidence against the decision maker.
The Seventh Circuit continues on its march toward sensible decision-making in employment discrimination cases, reversing dismissal of an ADEA case and reaffirming that an employee may survive summary judgment by any combination of evidence "that a rational jury could conclude" proves "that the employer took the adverse action against the plaintiff because he is a member of a protected class." The evidence included a deposition admission by the CEO that the company hired a new replacement salesman in his 20s because "he was a young individual" and, though inexperienced, "our thought process on him was he was a young guy, give him a shot [to] drive around the state showing fire trucks and learn the business."