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Should I Settle My Race Discrimination Case?

by | May 23, 2024 | Employment Discrimination, Employment Law, Federal Law Update, Race Discrimination, Retaliation |

As experienced employment discrimination lawyers, we can tell you that establishing a cases is a process. There has to be at least some evidence at the beginning in order to take the case, but employees do not have to have all of the evidence right from the get-go. Additionally evidence is obtained along the way – as part of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) investigation process, and through written discovery and deposition while the case is in litigation. In this regard, an employment discrimination case, can be viewed much like buying a stock on Wall Street. Good cases can get better, or they can get worse. The discovery of a key email or a witness saying the right or wrong thing may tip a case one way or the other. The value of the case may raise significantly, or it may drop to nothing.

Managing the risk is key. Risk is in litigation is managed on both sides by settlement. When both parties are risk and their risk tolerance overlap, case should settle. How occasionally, there is a party on one side – either the employer or the employee – that simply wants to let it all ride. This can lead to big verdicts or zero verdicts.

And no matter how strong either side may think their case is, there is always two wild cards: the judge and the jury. While each side hopes the judge and the jury will see it their way, as Fats Waller once said, “one never knows, does one.” This is why having skilled and knowledgeable employee’s rights lawyers is critical to evaluated the risks and value of the case.

Let’s look at the recent case of Boykin v. Genzyme Therapeutic Products, LP., No. 23-1667, 2024 WL 656922 (1st Cir. Feb. 16, 2024).

In 2013, Charles Boykin, an African American, started working as a manufacturing supervisor at Genzyme Therapeutic Products. Over time, he advanced to become the senior site planning analyst at Genzyme’s facility in Allston, Massachusetts. In this role, Boykin oversaw the cycle-count process and investigated any deviations from the company’s standard manufacturing procedures at the Allston site. Boykin reported directly to Michael Haepers, who in turn reported to Paul Beausoleil.

During a critique of Boykin’s performance by Sebastien Bernhard, the Head of Finance for the Allston facility, in front of all white colleagues, Boykin perceived race discrimination and harassment. After subsequently lodging a complaint with Genzyme’s human resources department, Bernhard offered an apology to Boykin. During the winter of 2017, while Charles Boykin was engaged in mopping up ice melt within the facility, Paul Beausoleil purportedly commented to another employee that “we finally have a job he [the employee] can handle.” Both Boykin and a co-worker overheard this statement and interpreted it as perpetuating a racial stereotype.

On March 20, 2018, Haepers informed Boykin that he would be getting rating of 3 on his review, which would prevent him from getting a bonus and raise as well as necessitate that Boykin be placed on a an Individual Improvement Plan (IIP). According to Boykin, Haepers explained that although he personally intended to rate Boykin as a 5, he was overruled by Beausoleil, who believed Boykin was “earning too much money.” At a 5, Boykin would have gotten the bonus and raise and not needed to go on the IIP. Shortly thereafter, before any IIP was issued, Boykin requested and was granted a medical leave of absence. Subsequently, he did not return to work.

Certainly, there is enough to take the case and investigate further. Given the apology and coworker’s testimony, there is enough evidence to put the employer at risk to lose a race discrimination case. Since an adverse action was taken shortly have Boykin engaged in the protected activity, there should have been a decent chance that the retaliation would at least make it to the jury.

With that said, both parties have risk. This is a case that should have settled but did not. As a result, someone goes home a big loser. Given the attorneys’ fees and costs associated with going through discovery, motion practice, and appeal, the employer will never come out a full winner – it is just a matter of how much it loses.

Best Employee’s Rights Lawyer Blogs on Point:

How do you prove race discrimination in the workplace?

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the prima facie elements of race discrimination typically include:

  1. Membership in a protected class: The individual must be a member of a racial minority group or have a racial characteristic that is protected under the law.
  2. Qualification for the position: The individual must be qualified for the job in question, possessing the necessary skills, experience, and qualifications.
  3. Adverse employment action: There must be an adverse employment action taken against the individual, such as termination, demotion, denial of promotion, or other negative treatment.
  4. Circumstances suggesting discriminatory motive: There must be circumstances surrounding the adverse employment action that suggest it was motivated by the individual’s race. This is typically established by showing that a similarly situated employee outside the protect class was treated more favorably or that the employee was fired or demoted and replaced with someone outside the protected class.

By establishing these elements, an employee can create a presumption of discrimination, which then shifts the burden to the employer to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action. At that point, the employee must show that reason is pretext – that the employer’s reason is a lie or did not really motivate it to take the adverse action.

Best Race Discrimination Attorney Blogs on Point:

How do you prove retaliation in the workplace?

To prove retaliation under Title, a similar burden shifting framework to that used in discrimination cases is used. Under the first step, the employee must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation by showing

  1. Protected Activity: They engaged in protected activity under Title VII, such as opposing discriminatory practices, reporting believed violations of Title VII, or participating in an investigation or proceeding related to discrimination.
  2. Adverse Employment Action: They experienced an adverse employment action, such as termination, demotion, or harassment.
  3. Causal Connection: The Adverse Employment Action was as a result of their protected activity, which is typically shown through direct evidence (such as a manager or boss saying that the employee is being fired because of their race discrimination complaints) or through temporal proximity (the adverse action closely followed the protected activity).

If the employee establishes the above prima facie case, the employer must then provide a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the adverse employment action. This reason must be unrelated to the employee’s protected activity. Should the employer be able to do so, the burden shifts back to the employee to present evidence that the employer’s proffered reason is pretextual, meaning it is not the true reason for the adverse action but rather a cover-up for retaliation.

Best Wrongful Termination Attorney Blogs on Point:

What happened in Boykin?

One of the parties decided to go all-in and not settle. The case proceeded to the Motion for Summary Judgment phase, where the employer asked the Court to dismiss the case as a matter of law.

The District Court as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considered the fact that in 2017, prior to any of the alleged incidences or reports of discrimination, concerns arose regarding the employee’s job performance. Throughout the year, both Haepers and Beausoleil conveyed concerns to the employee about the speed at which he was resolving deviation investigations. Additionally, Boykin failed an external cycle-count audit conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that the moping incident could establish race discrimination, holding:

the plaintiff places too much weight on the disparaging comment that Beausoleil made when the plaintiff was mopping up ice melt. Even assuming that this comment was racially tinged, our case law has firmly established that “[i]solated, ambiguous remarks are insufficient, by themselves, to prove discriminatory intent.” Without more, this stray and facially ambiguous comment cannot serve as the sole predicate for a determination that Beausoleil’s proffered reason for seeking to give the plaintiff a rating of 3 was pretextual. And here, there was no “more.”

Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted).

Likewise, the First Circuit Court of Appeals firmly rejected Boykin’s argument that the alleged reduction of his rating from a 5 to a 3, based on Beausoleil’s remark about him “making too much money,” could be interpreted as implying that it was excessive for a Black manager:

Yet, in making this claim, the plaintiff not only puts words into Beausoleil’s mouth but also ignores the possibility that Beausoleil was simply proffering a legitimate and nondiscriminatory view that the plaintiff’s performance at work did not justify such a salary. Even if this view was “unwise or unreasonable,” it is a far cry from being a pretextual one, intended to conceal a true discriminatory view.

Id. at *3 (internal citations omitted).

Could Boykin have won both the race discrimination and retaliation claims? Certainly. But there was a clear path to losing as well, which both the District Court and First Circuit Court of Appeals chose to follow. Should Boykin have settled? This is nearly impossible to answer as we sit here because we don’t know what if anything had been offered. However, the lesson to learn is that settlement should at least be considered at each step of the litigation process.

Best Racial Discrimination Law Firm Blogs on Point:


Please note that the race discrimination and retaliation information provided on this employment law blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The content of this employee’s rights blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel. The laws and legal procedures regarding race discrimination and employment law may vary depending on jurisdiction and individual circumstances. We make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability, or availability with respect to the information contained on this blog. Therefore, any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.

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