Boss Says He Didn’t Know I Am Black!
Ohio Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: How do
I find the best wrongful termination lawyer? My boss claims that he didn’t
discriminate because he didn’t know I’m black, is that a legal defense? What
can I do if I was fired today for reporting discrimination? What can I do if my
coworkers call me the N-word?
As an employment law attorney, I have heard employers
say and do some pretty mind-blowing things. We have heard of employers forcing
pregnant employees to pump in a dirty bathroom to hanging nooses at an African
American employee’s work station. But, there is always a horrible boss or
manager out there waiting to do something worse than the last one. The subject
of today’s blog is Mr. Dominic Ryan, the General Manager of Founder’s Brewing’s
Detroit location. One of Mr. Ryan’s former employees, a gentleman by the name
of Tracy Evan, is suing Founder’s Brewing, claiming that he was fired for
As our employment
law lawyers regularly blog, Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that makes it
illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against
employees or applicants based on their race/color, religion, gender/sex, national
origin, age, disability.
In addition to federal laws, Ohio Revised Code § 4112.01
is a state law that makes it unlawful for employers with four or more employees
to discriminate based on a protected class. Today, we are further blogging
about race discrimination and wrongful termination.
Co-workers Are Racist! What Can I Do?; How
Much Racism Do I Have To Put Up With At Work?; Help!
My Boss Won’t Stop Race Discrimination!).
Under these laws, an employer cannot take what is referred
to as an adverse employment action against an employee because of the employee’s
membership in a protected class. In order for an act by your employer to be
considered an adverse employment action, such an act must cause a materially
adverse change in the terms and conditions of employment. In order to be
considered materially adverse, the difference in working conditions must be
more disruptive than a simple inconvenience or a small alteration of job
responsibilities. Courts have held that materially adverse changes include;
hiring and firing, differences in pay rate, benefits, assignments, and
classifications of employees, transferring, promoting, laying off and recalling
employees, providing leave and accommodations, and other significant changes to
terms and conditions of employment. (For more see What
Is An Adverse Employment Action? – The Spitz Law Firm;
is an Adverse Employment Action Under Ohio Law?).
According to a story
published in the Detroit Metro Times, out of a total of 200
employees, Founders had only seven African American workers. Further, Evans was
the only African American assistant shift leader out of eight employees who
held that position. Evans started his career with Founder’s at their Grand
Rapids location but transferred to their new Detroit location in October 2017.
In the Complaint he filed with the U.S. District Court in the Eastern
District of Michigan, while working in Grand Rapids, a white
coworker came up to Evans and asked him, “What’s up with Detroit my nigger?” Like
any reasonable person, Evans reported what his coworker said to Founder’s human
resources. However, Founders did not terminate the white coworker for his
Evans also claimed that management at Founders’
Brewing named the two office printers, the “white guy printer” and the “black
guy printer.” Only management on the
second floor were allowed to use the “white guy printer.” The other
employees who worked on the lower levels of the facility had to use the “black
guy printer.” Obviously, this created a racial hierarchy – Caucasians in
management, African Americans down below.
In addition, Evans alleged that Founders had passed him over for two promotions.
Instead, Founders chose to elevate two white employees. To make matters worse,
Evans had more seniority than these employees and had been in charge of training
these two white employees when they started at Founders. As if this wasn’t bad
enough, the two white employees had also engaged in conduct that should have
gotten them fired before they were promoted. One of the employees apparently got
drunk at a company party and crashed his car into a parked vehicle. The other
employee had also gotten drunk (I am sensing a pattern here) and exposed his
private parts to employees at a holiday party.
It also seems that the racist comments followed Evans from Grand Rapids to
Detroit. For instance, one time, a group of employees were talking about former
Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, a male African American. After Evans had given
his opinion about the former mayor, a white employee said to Evans that he had
to tell Evans what it meant to be the “head nigger in charge.” In response,
Evans told the white coworker that it was not appropriate to use that kind of
language. At this point, instead of apologizing, the white co-worker doubled
down on his statement. The coworker’s remarks were reported to Ryan and Human
Resources, and Founders slapped the white employee on the wrist in the form of
a write up for the racist comments.
Evans later found out that the white coworker who made the “head nigger in charge
comment also made other racist remarks, including something about Detroit’s “dark”
clientele. This remark was an obvious reference to the skin color of many of
Founders customers. Evans complained of this blatant racism, and how Founders
was allowing this racism in the workplace. However, beyond the write-up,
Founders did nothing to stop the racist culture spreading through their
Eventually, Evans was fed up. He decided to go directly to Founders
headquarters in Grand Rapids and file a complaint directly with human
resources. Evans even scheduled a personal day off on June 1 just so he could
go to Grand Rapids and file his complaint. Allegedly, Ryan spoke with Evans and
asked him to finish an important project before he took time off. While
speaking with Ryan, Evans explained that he was taking the personal day so he
could go to Grand Rapids and make a complaint to HR. Trying to be a good employee, Evans agreed to
delay his trip. Unfortunately, Evans never got the chance to file his
complaint. The next time Evans reported to work, he was called into Ryan’s
office and fired before he could speak to HR.
This is retaliation, which is also illegal. (See Can
I Be Fired If My Father Reported Race Discrimination At My Job?;
In Retaliation For Reporting Sex Harassment?).
So, instead of filing an internal complaint with human
resources, Evans filed a lawsuit. This is where things get really strange. In
his deposition, Ryan claimed not to know that Evans is African American. The
Detroit Metro Times managed to get a
copy of the deposition transcript. Take a look at the
absurdity Ryan spewed:
Evans’ Attorney, Jack Schulz: When did you first meet
Founders Manager Dominic Ryan: 2011, 2012. We had mutual
friends before working there, so …
Schulz: OK, So you knew Tracy prior to his employment
Ryan: We met a few times, yes.
Schulz: OK, are you aware Tracy is Black?
Ryan: What do you mean by that?
Schulz: Are you aware Tracy is African-American?
Ryan: I’m not sure of his lineage so I can’t answer
Schulz: Alright. Are you aware that Tracy is a man of
Ryan: What do you mean by that?
Schulz: No? Do you know … You don’t know what it means
for someone to be a white person or a Black person?
Ryan: I’m asking for clarification.
Schulz: You don’t need any. I can promise you that. We’ll
keep the record as is. Someone’s skin color. A white …
Ryan: So that’s what you’re referring to?
Schulz: Yeah. Oh, yeah, yeah.
Ryan: OK. Yes, I know the difference in skin tone.
Schulz: Are you able to identify individuals by their
Ryan: What do you mean “identify”?
Schulz: I mean have you ever looked at Tracy Evans in
your entire life? Have you? That’s a … that’s a genuine question.
Founders Attorney: Objection. Argumentative.
Founders Attorney: You can answer.
Schulz: And did you ever realize that Tracy’s skin
Ryan: That’s not … I mean, is his skin different from
Ryan: What do you mean “how”? It’s a different color.
Schulz: And what is the difference of that color?
Ryan: It’s darker.
Schulz: And that means?
Founders Attorney: Objection. Vague question.
Schulz: I mean, we could … This could be a
one-sentence answer, you know. So by your … I guess your testimony is you have
no idea if Tracy is a minority, if he’s African-American?
Ryan: I don’t know Tracy’s lineage, so I can’t
speculate on whether he’s … if he’s from Africa or not.
Schulz: What do you mean lineage, from Africa?
Ryan: No. I mean, like, I don’t know his DNA.
Schulz: Have you ever met Black people who aren’t from
Ryan: Excuse me?
Schulz: Have you ever met a Black person born in
Schulz: And you were able … Have you ever met a Black
person who didn’t tell you they were Black?
Ryan: Can you rephrase that?
Schulz: Is Barack Obama Black?
Founders Attorney: Objection.
Schulz: To your knowledge?
Ryan: I’ve never met Barack Obama so I don’t …
Schulz: So you don’t know if Barack Obama is Black?
What about Michael Jordan? Do you know if Michael Jordan is Black?
Founders Attorney: Objection
Ryan: I’ve never met him.
Schulz: So you don’t know him? What about Kwame
Ryan: Never met him.
Schulz: To your knowledge, was Kwame Kilpatrick Black?
Ryan: I …
Schulz: You don’t know?
Ryan: I don’t know.
In case you are wondering, Ryan, is not
visually impaired. The fact that Ryan claims to be unaware that Evans was black
is simply mind-blowing. It is also evidence of the type of environment Evans
had to deal with while he was employed at Founders. If an employer is ignorant
of the fact that their employee is African American, then, of course, they will
be ignorant as to why the use of the N-word in the workplace is inappropriate.
Obviously, ignorance is no excuse for Founders’ behavior. An employer who fails
to recognize minorities will also fail
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, you will meet with a race discrimination
lawyer from The
Spitz Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal
claims. Call our Cincinnati attorneys at (513) 818-3688. Call our Cleveland attorneys at (216) 291-4744. Call our Columbus attorneys at (614) 335-4685. Call our Toledo attorneys at (419) 960-5926.
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 if racial slurs are used at my job”,
“I’m being discriminated against by my manager”, “my boss is discriminating
against me because I’m black” or “How do I sue my employer”, 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.