Workplace Discrimination Law Suit Ruling
On November 20, 2020 the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Publix Super Markets in a workplace discrimination claim brought by an African American employee. In 2016 the employee applied for a Truck Driver/Truck Driver Trainee position although he lacked the qualifications to work as a truck driver. The two positions used the same application. He was transferred to the Truck Driver Trainee position, although the paperwork mistakenly listed his new position as a Truck Driver.
Other paperwork, including a Relocation Agreement, correctly listed his position as a Truck Driver Trainee. When Publix discovered the error, it reduced his wages to that of a Truck Driver Trainee.
On June 8, 2017, the employee caused an accident by backing one trailer into another at Publix’s distribution facility. The accident was captured by Publix’s surveillance footage. Rather than immediately report the accident, the employee moved the other trailer to a different part of the lot and then reported that he discovered damage to his trailer although he didn’t know how the damage was caused. Upon reviewing the surveillance footage, Publix discovered the employee’s dishonesty and terminated his employment. The employee sued Publix claiming race and national origin discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
The trial court ruled against the employee, and the employee appealed. The Circuit Court affirmed the judgment. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee based on the employee’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 42 U.S.C. § 1981prohibits intentional race discrimination in the making and enforcing of private contracts including employment contracts.
When only circumstantial evidence exists, an employee generally has the initial burden of showing that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the job; he suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) similarly situated employees outside of the protected class were treated differently. Under the similarly situated requirement, the employee must show that he and his comparators are similarly situated in all material respects. This means that the employee and his comparators must have been engaged in the same basic conduct and subjected to the same work rules. If the employee makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the employer to proffer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.
If the employer makes such a showing, the employee then bears the ultimate burden of proving the stated reason to be a pretext for discrimination.
In this case, the employee was unable to show that any other employee found to have engaged in dishonesty was subjected to less severe discipline. Furthermore, the employee lacked the qualifications necessary to work as a truck driver. Finally, the employee failed to present evidence that he did not violate Publix’s written policy regarding dishonesty.