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Can I Sue For Race Discrimination If My Boss Breaks Rules?

by | Dec 6, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Race Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Do handbooks create a contractual right for employees?

Because contract law is based on the law of each state, the answer will depend on what state you work in. Several states laws provide that an employment handbook provided by the employer to the employees may create a binding contract, but only if it contains clear promissory terms that makes clear that the handbook is an offer that the employee cab accept by either signing or continuing to work after receiving the handbook. General terms in a handbook rarely create binding obligations. Moreover, many, if not most, employers make sure that the handbook includes a disclaimer that states something to the affect of:

This handbook is a ready source of information about policies and procedures and is not intended to be and should not be construed to be a contract. Regardless of anything stated herein, all employment remains at-will. Absent a specific written contract provided by and signed by [employer], employment can be terminated at any time by the [employer] and/or the employee is free to quit at any time.

Should a provision like the above appear in your handbook, it is highly unlikely that the handbook will be deemed a contract by any court, and you will remain an employee-at-will and will not be able to base a wrongful termination claim exclusively on a manager or supervisor’s breach of the handbook rules.

Can it be race discrimination if my supervisor breaks rules and takes actions against me?

That will depend. In order to have a claim for race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the adverse employment actions taken by the employer must be based on the employee’s race. For example, enforcing the rules only against Black employees while providing excuses to White employees can support a claim of discrimination. Likewise, disciplining African American employees harsher under a progressive disciplinary process can result in a very good disparate racial discrimination claim.

Moreover, a good employees’ rights lawyer can use the handbook to demonstrate that the reason given by the employer for firing the employee was a lie or pretext. For example, if the handbook contradicts the reason given for termination, it will be evidence that there really was a different reason – possibly discriminatory. Now, proving that an employer lied is only one of several necessary elements needed to prove wrongful termination based on race, which means that proving pretext, while important, does not independently create a claim of race discrimination nor wrongful firing.

Best Lawyer Blogs On Point:

Do you have an example of a case that dealt with a manager violating the rules?

In Kelley v. Howden, No. 21-13573, 2022 WL 17259720, at *1 (11th Cir. Nov. 29, 2022), the Eleventh District Court of Appeals dealt with a case in which Christen Robinson Kelley, a Black employee, sued her employer, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (“GEMA”) as well as her White supervisor, Catherine Howden, for race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII. Kelley claimed that she suffered race discrimination because she was not promoted as quickly as she believed that she was entitled to. A central part of her case focused on the fact that Howden skipped her individual reviews as required per handbook policy and company rules. In turn, Kelley argued the lack of the review impacted her ability to get promoted.

Unfortunately for Kelley, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held, in affirming the dismissal of her case, that under the fact presented, the rule violation by Howden was not evidence of race discrimination:

We will first address Ms. Kelley’s contention that the defendants’ failure to follow the SPB rules is direct evidence of discrimination. The district court determined that the failure to follow the SPB rules was not direct evidence of discrimination. It pointed to the “uncontradicted evidence” that Ms. Howden used (or failed to use) the same procedures with all employees “across the board and not just as to [Ms. Kelley].” … Ms. Kelley argues that the failure to follow the rules is direct evidence of racial discrimination because the purpose of the SPB rules is to eliminate employment discrimination and because the SPB rules are mandatory. Neither of these arguments have merit. …

The defendants’ failure to follow the SPB rules—regardless of whether those rules are mandatory rules or mere guidelines—does not prove racial discrimination in declining to promote Ms. Kelley. The failure to conduct formal reviews of all team members does not explicitly implicate race in any way, and, as the district court pointed out, the uncontradicted evidence shows that Ms. Howden used the same review process procedures with all the employees she supervised “across the board.” …. Ms. Howden treated all of her subordinates the same, and therefore the failure to follow the SPB rules is not direct evidence of racial discrimination.

Id. at *4 (citations to the record omitted).

While there were additional problems that the Court of Appeals identified with Kelley’s race discrimination case, this part illustrates the point at issue in today’s blog, which is this: Employer can violate rules and even do so intentionally without being liable for discrimination as long as such violations are not based on race or evenly applied to a variety of different employees of different races.

Best Lawyer Blogs On Point:

Do I have a claim for racial discrimination against the company that I work for?

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: If you ever have the belief that your boss or manager is engaging in race discrimination or harassment, the best way to find out if you have a claim is to call the right attorney. Every potential case is different and faces different legal questions. Therefore, you need to consult a lawyer to get direct legal advice about your potential racial discrimination or harassment claim or to figure out if you can sue for wrongful termination. When you call Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with an experience and dedicated race discrimination lawyer who will assist you in figuring out the best way to pursue your legal claims. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical). Our Ohio, Michigan, and North Carolina race discrimination attorneys are here to fight for your rights.

Disclaimer:

The above racial discrimination and harassment information on this employee’s rights blogpost and on this employment law website are for educational intentions only and should not be construed as legal advice regarding your particular situation. To get direct legal insight regarding you workplace situation, your best option is to contact a knowledge employment law attorney to obtain actual legal advice with respect to race discrimination that you have encountered at work. 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.