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Race Discrimination Laws Aren’t About Fairness

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

Life is not fair and employment laws do not require employers to be fair. Rather, employment discrimination laws simply require the employer to treat all employees equally. Employees cannot successfully sue based on fairness but can only prevail if there is a violation of the law – which brings us to our current blog topic … the case of the payroll manager that gave her boss’ paycheck away.

Felicia Bramble, a Black woman, was a payroll manager at Moody’s Corporation when she received a phishing email requesting that a senior manager’s direct deposit be moved to a different account. Bramble was aware of but failed to follow the company’s internal procedures to directly confirm the request and get a cancelled check or bank letter as prerequisite to changing any employee’s direct deposit information. Bramble admitted to the policy violation.

Bramble sued for wrongful termination based on race discrimination claiming that her firing was not fair. Her case was dismissed and appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Bramble v. Moody’s Corp., No. 23-506, 2024 WL 705955 (2d Cir. Feb. 21, 2024). Let’s take a deeper look at the issues at play and what happened.

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How do you prove race discrimination?

To prove race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 absent direct evidence, the employee must establish several elements/ These elements typically include:

  1. Membership in a Protected Class: The employee must demonstrate that they belong to a racial minority group that is protected under Title VII. This involves showing that they are of a particular race or ethnicity that has historically faced discrimination.
  2. Qualification for the Position: The employee must establish that they were qualified for the job or opportunity in question. This entails demonstrating that they possessed the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications to perform the duties of the position.
  3. Adverse Employment Action: There must be evidence of an adverse employment action taken against the individual, such as being fired or being denied a job, promotion, raise, or other employment opportunity.
  4. A Causal Link: The employee can establish an initial causal link by showing that they were replace with someone outside the protected class or that one or more similarly situated employees who are not members of the protected class received more favorable treatment in similar circumstances.

After that, the burden shifts to the employer to state a legitimate business reason for the employment decision – one that is not based on race. This shifts the burden back to the employee to show that this reason is either false or did not really motivate the decision – which can be demonstrated by pointing to other employees outside the protected class that engaged in the same or very similar conduct under the same decision-makers but received lesser or no adverse employment actions.

Without directly addressing the first step, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that it is clearly a legitimate business reason for an employer to fire an employee who skipped critical financial protocols and gave her boss’ paycheck to cybercriminals.

To argue pretext, Bramble argued that given her clean employment record and the fact that no money was actually lost, her employer should have considered and imposed a sanction lesser than firing her. In doing so, however, Bramble admitted that her company’s code of conduct did not require progressive discipline and that she understood that the employer would fire employees for serious financial violations. In doing so, Bramble failed to present any evidence showing that even one similarly situated employee engaged in a comparably severe violation, yet was only given additional training, subjected to lesser progressive discipline or sanction, or otherwise given more favorable treatment. In sum, Bramble’s argument came down to arguing that she thought a lesser punishment would have been fairer.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stopped this argument in its tracks, holding:

And while Bramble may disagree that termination was warranted in this circumstance, her disagreement as to the severity of her violation is insufficient to show discrimination or pretext. … [A] plaintiff cannot prevail on a claim of discrimination “simply by questioning whether her misconduct was sufficiently severe to warrant termination.” … [T]he court’s “role is to prevent unlawful hiring practices, not to act as a super personnel department that second guesses employers’ business judgments.”

Id. at *2.

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How do I know if I was wrongfully fired?

Determining whether you were wrongfully fired or otherwise unlawfully discriminated against are complex matters that often requires legal expertise. Consulting with attorneys who specialize in employment law is critical in such situations because they possess the knowledge and experience necessary to evaluate your case effectively. Attorneys focusing exclusively on employment law understand the intricacies of issues related to wrongful termination as well as race and other forms of discrimination, enabling them to provide informed guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Among the firms practicing only in employment law, Spitz stands out as an excellent choice for several reasons. As one of the largest firms in the country exclusively dedicated to protecting employees’ rights, Spitz has a wealth of experience and resources to draw upon when advocating for clients. Their singular focus on employee advocacy ensures that they possess a deep understanding of the nuances of employment disputes, including wrongful termination claims. Additionally, Spitz’s commitment to client accessibility is evident through their no fee guarantee and free initial consultation policy. By offering a no fee guarantee, Spitz ensures that clients only pay legal fees if their case is successfully resolved. This approach not only makes legal representation more accessible but also helps deter attorneys from taking claims just to bill, as contingency fees incentivize attorneys to pursue only meritorious cases and recover as much as possible. Furthermore, the free initial consultation allows individuals to discuss their situation with experienced attorneys without financial obligation, enabling them to make informed decisions about their legal options.

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The wrongful termination and race discrimination information provided on this employment law blog is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended as direct legal advice about your wrongful firing or potential racial discrimination claims and should not be construed as such. Viewing or accessing this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship. The content of this blog may not reflect the most current legal developments, and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Readers should not act based on the information provided without first seeking appropriate legal or professional advice. The author and publisher of this blog are not liable for any damages or losses arising from the use of or reliance on the information presented herein. Always consult with a qualified attorney or professional for advice specific to your employment situation.

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