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Best Wrongful Termination Attorney Answer: What should I do if I am being harassed at work because of both my race and gender? What is pretext? When should I consult an employment discrimination attorney? How do I find an employment lawyer?

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As employment law attorneys, sometimes we hear tales of pretty clear cut discrimination based on an individual’s race (my boss called me a racial slur), or age (my boss told me he had to fire me because I can’t keep up with the younger employees), or gender (the company I applied with told me they just don’t hire women). But sometimes the issues aren’t as cut and dry. What if an employer’s decision to fire an employee has to do with the fact that they are unhappy with an employee because they think she acts like a stereotypical “angry black woman,” or, an “uppity black woman”? In the case of Shazor v Professional Transit Management, Ltd, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Ohio) allowed an Ohio woman to proceed to a jury when her employer did just that.

Shazor, a graduate of West Point, and the University of Michigan Business School, was hired as a Chief Operating Officer for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority or SORTA.  Eventually, Shazor was promoted to the position of CEO for SORTA and enjoyed at least a moderate amount of success in the position. At the time she was promoted, Shazor had relatively little experience running a company and working in the transportation field, but Shazor’s problems began when the management company who helped place her in her original role with SORTA began to resent the fact that she rejected their offers for training, counseling, or guidance from their more experienced employees. It eventually came to light that Shazor’s colleagues with the management company referred to her as a “prima donna” on multiple occasions and also as a “hellava bitch.”

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When SORTA employees began efforts to unionize, Shazor was placed in the hot seat. The Board of Directors for SORTA wanted to hire a consultant to help guide them through the process, and Shazor or her staff ended up making a recommendation.  Eventually it turned out that the consulting company SORTA hired had an “anti-labor” stance and the Board became unhappy with the decision. Shazor was terminated, and replaced initially by an individual from the management company, then permanently by a Hispanic woman.

Shazor brought suit for race discrimination and gender discrimination. During the phase in the case where both sides exchange information, email communications between Shazor’s “supervisors” at the management company painting Shazor in an unfavorable light were discovered, and the management company provided testimony that explained the real reason Shazor was let go had to do with two lies she told SORTA’s board.

Shazor claimed that these two lies were really just a reason given to support her termination to hide the true motivation based on her race and gender. In our field, this reason is defined as “pretext“ and the Court found that there was enough evidence to create a question about whether the two lies were the actual or fabricated reason for Shazor’s termination.

The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals held:

We next address Plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence theory. Under this approach, Plaintiff “must first make out a prima facie case of discrimination by showing 1) that [she] was a member of a protected class; 2) that [she] was discharged; 3) that [she] was qualified for the position held; and 4) that [she] was replaced by someone outside of the protected class.” Griffin v. Finkbeiner, 689 F.3d 584, 592 (6th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted). Once a plaintiff has established her prima facie case, the burden “shifts to the employer to offer a legitimate, non-discriminatory explanation for its actions; finally, the burden shifts back to the plaintiff to show pretext.” Chen v. Dow Chem. Co., 580 F.3d 394, 400 (6th Cir. 2009). “[T]o survive summary judgment a plaintiff need only produce enough evidence to support a prima facie case and to rebut, but not to disprove, the defendant’s proffered rationale.” Griffin, 689 F.3d at 593 (quotation marks omitted). We hold, as explained below, that Plaintiff has established a prima facie case of race and sex discrimination and rebutted Defendants’ non-discriminatory justification for her termination.

The message to be taken away from Shazor’s case is that employers will almost never tell an employee being terminated that the decision is based on the employee’s race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability. We advise that if you suspect you were given a false reason for your termination the best thing you can do is talk with an attorney.

If you are searching “I need a lawyer because I have been wrongfully fired or terminated;” or “I have been discriminated against based on my …” race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at (216) 291-4744. The Spitz Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.

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