A white man working as the general manager of a hotel claimed that his white supervisor engaged in racial discrimination when she terminated his employment.
Initially, I was skeptical. But not anymore.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it unlawful for employers to terminate an employee based on race, which includes a situation in which a white decisionmaker terminates a white employee.
A plaintiff may prove discrimination through either direct or circumstantial evidence. Most utilize the latter approach because most employers don’t admit that race motivated the employment decision.
This case was an exception. Check this out.
The supervisor told the plaintiff in front of a witness that she wanted to replace him and his staff with “Hispanic” employees because they “work cheaper and faster.” She also said, “Male GMs don’t make good general managers, and as far as [she was] concerned, [the plaintiff] shouldn’t be here.”
This is direct evidence of discrimination for four reasons:
- The comments relate directly to the plaintiff’s race and sex by negative implication.
- An immediate supervisor made the comments.
- She said them just four months before firing the plaintiff.
- The comments related to the challenged employment decision.
But, even with direct evidence of discrimination, an employer can win if it would have terminated the plaintiff for legitimate reasons anyway. The district court reached this conclusion and dismissed the case.
The Fifth Circuit disagreed because there was inconsistent and converted testimony all over the place.
For example, in interrogatory responses, the defendants offered five separate (seemingly) legitimate reasons why the plaintiff got fired.
“In their depositions, however, the supervisors changed their tunes,” noted the appellate court.
For example, one of the defendants testified about a new reason why they fired the plaintiff. Another defendant, the plaintiff’s supervisor, the actual decisionmaker, contradicted herself. Yet another defendant said the plaintiff’s absenteeism was his most significant issue. In contrast, a fourth defendant testified that he had approved all of the plaintiff’s absences, and the plaintiff’s attendance record did not motivate the decision at all.
After proceeding to dissect all of the remaining purportedly legitimate reasons for ending the plaintiff’s employment, the Fifth Circuit also found significant plaintiff’s testimony that there was no record of discipline the entire time he served as general manager, despite the defendant’s progressive discipline policy requiring two written warnings before termination.
This case had it all:
- A white guy with a seemingly successful discrimination claim
- Direct evidence of discrimination
- Management contradicts each other
- No documentation of discipline
- Failure to follow written policies
My advice to employers: do the opposite.