Today, we consider the recent United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case, Williams v. Fed. Express Corp, No. 22-2014, 2022 WL 17580657, at *1 (3d Cir. Dec. 12, 2022). Lori Williams, an African American female, had been working at FedEx since 1995, when she was fired for failing to report that she backed her delivery truck into a house. Although she was reinstated a few weeks later after an internal appeal was reviewed, Williams, by and through an attorney, sued FedEx for wrongful termination and disparate employment discrimination because she was denied overtime opportunities given to white coworkers.
After the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed her case by granting the employer’s motion for summary judgment, her lawyer dumped Williams, who was forced to appeal on her own.
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What is disparate treatment discrimination?
Disparate treatment discrimination occurs as a result of an employer treating an employee or group of employees less favorably because of a protected class. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits disparate treatment discrimination based on race/color, gender/sex, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and national origin. Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) make disparate treatment discrimination unlawful based on disability and age respectively.
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How do you prove a claim of disparate treatment?
The United States Supreme Court has held that the “burden of establishing a prima facie case of disparate treatment is not onerous.” Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, (1981) 450 U.S. 248, 253, 101 S.Ct. 1089, 1094. Initially, the employee need only show that the employer treated other similarly situated employees less favorably than others because of their race, color, religion, sex, gender identify, sexual orientation, national origin, age or disability. Once the employee does so, the burden that shifts to the employer to rebut the presumption of discrimination by producing evidence that the employee was treated less favorably because of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason. The employer’s explanation, if believed, must be legally sufficient to justify a judgment in its favor. “Placing this burden of production on the defendant thus serves simultaneously to meet the plaintiff’s prima facie case by presenting a legitimate reason for the action and to frame the factual issue with sufficient clarity so that the plaintiff will have a full and fair opportunity to demonstrate pretext.” Id. at 255-56.
Should the employer do so, the employee has the opportunity to prove that employer’s stated reason was pretext. The employee “may succeed in this either directly by persuading the court that a discriminatory reason more likely motivated the employer or indirectly by showing that the employer’s proffered explanation is unworthy of credence.” Id. at 256.
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So, what happened to Williams?
Her solo efforts did not go so well. Although the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the assignment of overtime hours based on race could support a racial disparate employment discrimination case, it held that Williams could not overcome the employer’s stated business reason:
Williams’ overtime-related claim pertained to an instance in 2017 in which two less senior, Caucasian male employees were selected to work overtime shifts that were denied to Williams. FedEx provided a declaration from a senior manager noting that Williams was not selected to work the shifts in question because she had too many conditions related to her requests, such as when she would start, when she would finish, and where she was willing to work. In her opening brief, Williams does not point to any evidence refuting this justification, nor did she do so before the District Court. Thus, we agree with the District Court’s decision to grant FedEx’s motion for summary judgment on this claim.
Williams at *1.
And given that Williams failed to report backing into a customer’s house, the Court of Appeals held that her brief two-week termination was not wrongful:
Namely, even if Williams was unaware of the accident and resulting damage to the customer’s home, there is no evidence in the record suggesting that FedEx did not truly believe that Williams violated company policy, even if its initial termination decision was potentially ill-informed or mistaken. See Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 765 (3d Cir. 1994) (“To discredit the employer’s proffered reason …, the plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer’s decision was wrong or mistaken.”); Pulczinski v. Trinity Structural Towers, Inc., 691 F.3d 996, 1003 (8th Cir. 2012) (“To prove that the employer’s explanation was false, the employee must show the employer did not truly believe that the employee violated company rules.”). And with respect to the fact that Williams’ employment was reinstated after she appealed within the company, mere disagreement among decisionmakers regarding the level of discipline provided to Williams is insufficient to establish discrimination. See Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 767. Thus, Williams failed to create a triable issue that FedEx’s proffered justification was pretext for discrimination.
Id. at *2.
Do I have a claim for racial discrimination against the company that I work for?
Best Race Discrimination Attorney Answer: If you have reached this point and are concerned that your boss or manager is a racist or discriminating against you because you are Black, Asian, transgendered, Jewish, or any other protected class, you need to directly consult an employee’s rights law firm. Do not wait to call Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm to schedule a free and confidential consultation, you will meet with a race discrimination lawyer from Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm who will help you determine the best way to pursue your legal claims. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?). Our Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina discrimination attorneys and wrongful termination lawyers are ready and willing to fight for your rights.
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