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Title VII Doesn’t Protect Against All Retaliation

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Race Discrimination, Retaliation, Wrongful Termination |

In the legal arena, where reality often rivals fiction in its twists and turns, the case of Collins v. Kansas City Missouri Pub. Sch. Dist. serves as a reminder that employment discrimination law isn’t always black and white. Meet Albert Collins, a dedicated employee who found himself entangled in a web of deceit. Collins, employed in various roles within the school district for over ten years, was a trusted “attendance ambassador.” However, his loyalty to his longtime friend and supervisor, Samuel Johnson, led him down a dubious path. Johnson departed from the school district, leaving behind accusations of “attendance fraud” against the institution. Collins, admitting his involvement, revealed a tale of altering attendance records at Johnson’s behest, often without proper documentation in order to meet state required numbers. Despite his admitted complicity in the attendance fraud, Collins sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful termination which he claimed were based on race/color discrimination as well as retaliation.

Does Title VII make all retaliation illegal?

No, Title VII does not make all retaliation illegal. Retaliation under Title VII is limited to actions taken against employees for engaging in protected activities identified in the statute. These activities include opposing discriminatory practices, participating in discrimination investigations or proceedings, or otherwise asserting rights protected under Title VII. In the case of Collins, his claim of retaliation hinges on whether his termination was in response to his involvement in protected activities, such as reporting racial discrimination or participating in an investigation, rather than his admitted participation in fraud.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that he could not meet this burden based on his own admissions:

Collins doesn’t clearly identify what he believes was the protected conduct he engaged in. At times he suggests that it was giving interviews to the school district and the third-party investigator about the attendance-fraud scheme. But Collins doesn’t explain how those interviews had anything to do with race. In fact, he admitted at his deposition that the investigation was about attendance fraud and “was not an investigation for race discrimination.” Additionally, he told the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after his termination that the school district retaliated against him “because of the information I possess.” When asked to clarify at his deposition, he said it was “for having the—the attendance names.”

Id. at *3. The school was legally allowed to retaliate against Collins for engaging in a fraud scheme. Collins was not engaging in protected conduct under Title VII when he was interviewed or provided witness information regarding the attendance fraud scheme. As a result, his claims for wrongful termination based on retaliation were dismissed.

Best Retaliation Lawyer Blogs on Point:

Can you assert a Title VII claim if you admit to engaging in terminable conduct?

Yes, you can still assert a Title VII claim even if you admit to engaging in fraudulent activities. Initially, and a practical matter, judges do not ordinarily give the benefit of the doubt to employees who engaged in significant wrongdoing. With that said, unequal discipline in the workplace can constitute a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it is based on an employee’s race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on these protected bases, including in matters of discipline. When discipline is meted out unfairly, with different standards applied to employees of different races, it can create a hostile work environment and perpetuate systemic discrimination.

To establish a Title VII violation based on unequal discipline, an employee must typically demonstrate disparate treatment. This means showing that employees of a different race or protected class who engaged in similar misconduct received more favorable treatment, such as lesser disciplinary actions or no disciplinary action at all. Stated more simply, employers cannot fire a Black employee for engaging in the same conduct as a similarly situated white employee, but only suspend or warn that same white worker.

Courts analyze unequal discipline claims by considering whether there is evidence of discriminatory intent or impact. Direct evidence, such as discriminatory statements or actions by supervisors, can support a finding of intentional discrimination. However, discriminatory intent can also be inferred from circumstantial evidence, such as a pattern of unequal treatment or evidence that the employer’s stated reasons for the discipline are pretextual.

In the case of Collins, he was not able to establish that there were any similarly situated employees that were treated more favorably. Collins pointed to Rick Bishop but could not clearly state Bishops alleged role in the attendance fraud scheme. Additionally, the Eighth District Court of Appeals held that the “district court correctly held that Collins and Bishop were not similarly situated enough to permit a reasonable jury to find that race motivated the school district’s decision. Bishop worked in the school district’s IT department and reported to a different supervisor from Collins’s.” Id. at *2. Even more, several white employees lost their jobs as a result of their involvement in the attendance fraud conduct.

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:

What should I do if I was wrongfully fired for being Black?

If you believe you’ve experienced discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, it’s essential to consult with an experienced attorney who focus exclusively in employment law and only represent employees. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, we understand the complexities of employment law and are dedicated to advocating for the rights of employees. Our team offers a free initial consultation to discuss your case and provide personalized legal advice. Additionally, we operate on a no-fee guarantee, meaning you only pay if we win your case. Don’t navigate the legal system alone—let Spitz fight for justice on your behalf.


This race discrimination blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice about wrongful termination or workplace discrimination. The employee’s rights information provided should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified employment attorney regarding your individual situation. The outcome of each case depends on a variety of factors unique to that case. Viewing this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm.

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