In a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion,
Mitten v. Lockheed – Martin Aeronautics, the Appellate Court determined that an employee
may bring a claim for relief where sufficient circumstantial evidence
exists of racial discrimination. It is not necessary to show that another
person in the same job position was treated more favorably in order to
have a triable claim.
Here, a white male – Anthony Mitten, a supervisor at Lockheed-Martin
Aeronautics -claimed that his employer discriminated against him on account
of his race by firing him after receiving and then forwarding a racially
insensitive joke email. Under a “zero-tolerance” policy in
place at Lockheed-Martin, supervisors were required to report acts of
harassment, which then would be subject to a Human Resource’s investigation.
The HR department would determine the appropriate discipline, up to and
including termination. After learning about Mitten’s action in forwarding
the email rather than immediately reporting it, the HR department started
an investigation into Mitten’s conduct and subsequently fired him.
Mitten later learned that two black employees had recently transmitted
racist emails targeting whites and received more lenient treatment under
the same zero tolerance policy. Mitten then sued claiming
reverse race discrimination.
Unfortunately, racism still exists in the workplace. Title VII prohibits
employers from discriminating against their employees “because of”
their race or color. The law not only applies to blacks and other racial
minorities, but individuals of all races and colors. When a non-minority
employee brings a claim, it is known as “reverse discrimination.”
The District Court for the Northern District of Georgia rejected Mitten’s
claim of discrimination reasoning that because Mitten did not point out
preferentially treated blacks in the same job position as him –
a supervisory role – he lacked sufficient evidence of discrimination
to continue his case.
The 11 Circuit Appellate Court disagreed, stating “[D]ifferences
in job ranks…are not, in and of themselves dispositive as to whether
the two individuals may be compare for the purposes of evaluating a discrimination
claim.” Significantly, the Appellate Court also noted “the
plaintiff will always survive summary judgment if he presents circumstantial
evidence that creates a triable issue concerning the employer’s
discriminatory intent [emphasis added].” If a jury could infer intentional
intent based on the circumstantial evidence, then the case may continue.
In this situation, circumstantial evidence introduced included widespread
media publicity about recent shootings at the plant, as well as a pending
investigation into a hostile work environment, that might have influenced
management to take a particularly hard line against racial harassment.
Evidence was also presented that black employees were disciplined less
harshly for zero tolerance violations. The court determined that although
the white supervisor failed to identify a similarly situated black supervisor,
substantial circumstantial evidence existed during the spring and summer
of 2005 that Lockheed “consciously interjected race into its discipline
decision making without an explanation for doing so.”
In race discrimination cases, the rule is always the same – you may
not be discriminated against based on the color of your skin, whatever
color you may be. Even if you can’t point to an individual in the
exact same job rank as you who was treated better than you, circumstantial
evidence of discrimination is enough to bring a claim. This decision is
a significant victory for all individuals who face workplace discrimination.
For more information, or if you believe you have been subjected to workplace
discrimination, please contact the
Atlanta race discrimination lawyers for a confidential consultation.