People often think that if they legitimately screw up at work and get in trouble, they won’t be able to successfully pursue a discrimination claim, even when the employer is unfair about how it disciplines them. As the employment law attorneys at The Spitz Law Firm know, this simply isn’t true.
As it turns out, even if an employee acts outrageously, he or she may still have a claim for race discrimination if the employer treats that employee differently on the basis of race.
The case of Jones v. Evergreen Packaging, Inc., is a good example. Oren Jones, an African American, supervised an employee named Jeff Connor, a Caucasian. On two occasions, Connors took actions which caused Jones to be sprayed with water, each of which he claimed was accidental. One day, Jones’ grinder jammed, and he asked Connor to fix it. Connor responded by swinging a wood hook at Jones as though he was going to hit him with it. In each incident, Connor was given an opportunity to explain himself, and both he and Jones were given written counseling. At no point did Connor receive any further discipline.
A few days later, Jones was asked by some of his subordinates what he would do if Connor got him fired. Another employee suggested Jones would “go postal.” Jones then replied that if he were fired, he would “just walk up to people and go bang,” and “just go postal.” When Evergreen learned of Jones’ remarks, it immediately suspended him without pay, and it prohibited Jones from returning to work until he got a psychiatric evaluation and signed a “last-chance” agreement. Jones was later reinstated after he complied with these conditions.
Jones sued for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Evergreen’s attorneys moved for summary judgment on the race discrimination lawsuit (which is a way to get the cased dismissed before trial as a matter of law), and the District Court granted it, finding that Evergreen had offered a legitimate reason for suspending Jones, and that Jones had failed to provide enough evidence that this reason was actually an excuse for race discrimination (“pre-text”).
However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals saw things differently:
We agree with the [District Court] that [Evergreen] proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for suspending Jones, namely, that it determined he made a violent threat in the workplace. … We find, however, that material issues of fact existed as to whether [Evergreen’s] proffered reason was pretextual…Second, [Jones’ and Connor’s] conduct was of comparable seriousness to provide evidence of pretext: Conner physically threatened Jones with a potentially deadly tool, and Jones allegedly made a comment to other employees about “going postal” if he were fired…[but Evergreen] did not treat Conner and Jones the same in terms of investigations and punishments: each time Jones complained about Conner’s misconduct, Conner was given an opportunity to explain himself, and either he was not disciplined or both men were given a written counseling; in contrast, Jones was suspended without pay, and the record indicates [Evergreen] had decided to discipline him before hearing his side of the story.
The Court then reversed and remanded (sent back) the case to the District Court, where Evergreen will have to try and explain why it treats misbehaving Caucasian employees better than misbehaving Black employees.
What is the lesson to be learned? Even if you genuinely messed up or did something wrong at work, you may nonetheless have a claim for race discrimination if your employer respond to your conduct differently than your coworkers because of your race. If you think or even question whether you may be being treated differently based on your race, ask an attorney for an opinion. You have nothing to lose, especially when The Spitz Law Firm offers a free initial consultation.
Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: “Can my employer discipline me differently based on race?” & “What should I do when my boss treats white employees better?
If you feel that you are being discriminated based on your race, whatever race that may be, then call the right attorney. Race discrimination includes being harassed, fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, and denied wages. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040, you will meet with an attorney from The Spitz Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims.
The materials available at the top of this race discrimination page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking: “What should I do …”, “I’m being discriminated against …”, “my boss is discriminating against me because …” or “How do I …”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to race discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.