'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."
The Fifth Circuit holds that an unstrung father struggling with child care deserves a jury trial (for FMLA retaliation) against a slew of reasons offered by Chevron for his termination. This case may also prove useful for Title VII litigants. Under that statute, a plaintiff who proves that discrimination was a "motivating factor" in workplace treatment gets a judgment in her favor. Yet an employer that proves that it "would have taken the same action in the absence" of discrimination can avoid paying monetary damages. Courts have reported very few decisions interpreting this "same decision" defense. Here, the Fifth Circuit holds that evidence that would otherwise be sufficient to prevail in a "single motive" case is not necessarily enough to win the day under "same decision."
summary judgment motions and appeals in employment discrimination cases often ask, at their core, whether a jury should be empanelled to weigh conflicting evidence (and inferences) and decide whether a supervisor involved in a termination decision harbored a biased motive. Here, where a fired 76-year-old security guard presented evidence that his supervisor told him that he "needed to hang up his Superman cape" and was "too old to be working," at least two of the three judges thought that a jury should decide that question.
Employees with disabilities are sometimes caught between the desire to work and the need to apply for public or short-term disability benefits for survival purposes. The Ninth Circuit does a good job in explaining how these are not necessarily in conflict, reversing summary judgment in an Americans with Disabilities Act case where a school teacher had to apply for disability retirement.
I think we have the right sign for the Seventh Circuit this week. The same day that the court interred the rule against using an employee's "self-serving" testimony to resist summary judgment in employment-discrimination cases, another panel of the same court helps correct a lingering misunderstanding about what it means for an employee to use a "mosaic" of circumstantial evidence under Title VII - and also backs off a bit from a strict direct/indirect framework of proof enforced by that circuit. Such cases may help district courts reach more sensible decisions at the summary judgment stage.
The Seventh Circuit announces that it is overruling language in employment-discrimination cases going back over twenty years, and reminding courts that an employee's own testimony is, if otherwise relevant, admissible to resist summary judgment. Such testimony will no longer be excluded as "self serving."
The Sixth Circuit demolishes a popular defense tactic by employers in discrimination cases, holding that district courts should not readily entertain motions in limine to exclude evidence that are often filed after summary judgment motions fail. The panel holds that such motions often intrude on the jury's role as fact-finder, while denying employees the procedural protections of summary judgment. The court reverses the exclusion of evidence of comparative employees and remands an age and national-origin discrimination case for trial.
The D.C. Circuit remands a federal-sector race discrimination case for trial, where a jury will decide whether the agency's (alleged) inability to keep its story straight about the process it used to interview candidates - and then supposedly cancel a new GS-14 position - demonstrates racial bias.