“Despite considerable racial progress, racism persists as an evil
to be remedied in our Nation.” These words, penned by Eleventh Circuit
Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor, are from an important race discrimination
case recently decided by the federal appeals court for Georgia, Florida,
and Alabama, in which the court affirmed a verdict of more than half a
million dollars to an African-American employee who was fired after he
refused to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement. Goldsmith v. Bagby
Greg Goldsmith was exposed to a stream of severe racist comments and conduct
during his employment, and, although he complained about it repeatedly,
his employer failed to correct the problem. He filed a charge of race
discrimination with the EEOC. While his charge was pending, the company
adopted a mandatory arbitration policy that required all employees to
arbitrate all discrimination claims, and it presented the policy to all
of its employees to sign. Mr. Goldsmith, however, was the only employee
who had a pending discrimination charge against the company. When Mr.
Goldsmith refused to sign the arbitration agreement, he was immediately
discharged, but other employees who had initially refused to sign the
agreement were not discharged.
In Mr. Goldsmith’s subsequent race discrimination case, he argued
that his discharge was in retaliation for his refusal to sign the arbitration
policy. The jury agreed, awarding him $50,000 in back pay and emotional
distress damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.
On the employer’s appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the jury’s
verdict, holding that because Goldsmith had agreed to sign the arbitration
policy had the company agreed to exclude his pending charge from the policy,
and because the company had tried to convince white employees who initially
refused to sign the agreement to change their mind, but it simply discharged
Goldsmith, there was sufficient evidence of retaliatory animus by the
employer to support the verdict.