In January of 2009, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky decided a case that involved a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit. In Singleton v. Select Specialty Hospital-Lexington, Inc., 2009 WL 192577 (E.D.Ky.), the facts are as follows. Mr. Singleton is an African American male who worked for one of the defendants as a RN. Id. This case involved a few plaintiffs and two defendants. One of the defendants provided overflow services to the other defendant if and when they needed more staff to help cover their facility. And one of the things the facility could do is at the last minute “call off” a particular nurse for a shift if a nurse was not needed. In August of 2005, Mr. Singleton on one occasion brought this up to his supervisor claiming he should not have been called off and the supervisor agreed and said it would not happen again. Id. Also, in November of 2005, Mr. Singleton heard one of the employees talking about “blacks.” Id. And he complained about this. Id. And in February of 2006, Mr. Singleton again complained of the ‘calling off’ procedure and said it was not racially fair that more African-American workers were being called off as compared to Caucasian workers. Id. Then in March of 2006, Mr. Singleton had an incident with the dispensing of some drugs.
Another plaintiff, Ms. Robinette, who was of Chilean descent, was hired as an LPN in November of 2006. Id. She spoke perfect English and Spanish. She kept her Chilean background a secret and claims when her boss found out about it, she began to be treated differently. Id.
Another plaintiff, Ms. Spencer, who is African-American, was hired by Select as a CNA. Id. She claims she was overheard speaking about religion and homosexuality with another employee at work. Id. This is in violation of the work policy. Id. Ms. Spencer did not understand why, and when she questioned it, she was suspended for two days.
Then there were plaintiffs Hall, Jackson and Logan. These plaintiffs are grouped together because their claims are for racial hostile work environment when they overheard some workers saying racially derogatory jokes and comments. Id. Hall and Jackson also claimed that one of the defendants was selectively enforcing the dress code against African American employees. Id.
These matters were all consolidated by the court for trial purposes. The plaintiffs filed race discrimination claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 as well as retaliation claims. Id. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs did not show any direct evidence, so they would have to prove their cases with circumstantial evidence. Id. In looking at the evidence, in order to prove a claim of hostile work environment, the plaintiffs must show that “1) she was a member of a protected class; 2) she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; 3) the harassment was based on sex or race; 4) the harassment created a hostile work environment; and 5) employer liability.” Id. In doing so, in a circumstantial evidence case, the court will use a ‘totality of the circumstances’ approach to determining if a hostile work environment existed. Id. The Court will look at the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating; or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with an employee’s performance. (cites omitted). Id. And so the Court looked at all the evidence and held that the plaintiffs did not provide enough evidence to sustain such a claim.
Next, some of the plaintiffs brought a Section 1981 and Kentucky Civil Rights Act action for retaliation for reporting racial discrimination. Id. To maintain the claim for retaliation, “a plaintiff must prove that 1) she engaged in Title VII protected activity, 2) defendants knew she engaged in the protected activity; 3) defendants subsequently took an adverse employment action against her; and 4) the adverse action was causally related to the protected activity.” (cites omitted). Id. The Court indicated that ‘temporal proximity’ was something to be considered. Temporal proximity is when an adverse employment action occurs very close in time after an employer learns of a protected activity. Id.
Once a plaintiff establishes her prima facie case, then the employer has an opportunity to give a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its actions. Id. Then the plaintiff has the burden to show that the actions by the defendant were pretextual. “An employee proves pretext by showing either the proffered reason: 1) has no basis in fact; 2) did not actually motivate the adverse employment action; or 3) was insufficient to warrant the adverse action.” (cites omitted). Id.
“If an employer has an honest belief in its proffered nondiscriminatory reason for discharging an employee, the employee cannot establish that the reason was pretext by showing the employer was ultimately incorrect.” (cites omitted). Id. “The key inquiry is whether the employer made a reasonably informed and considered decision before taking an adverse employment action.” (cites omitted). Id. The Court on this issue decided that one of the plaintiffs had shown enough for retaliation but two others had not.
And finally on the racial discrimination claims, the Court held, to state a prima facie case for racial discrimination a plaintiff must show 1) she is a member of a protected group, 2) she was subject to an adverse employment decision, 3) she was qualified for the position, and 4) she was replace by a person outside of the protected class (or that she was treated differently than similarly situated non-protected employees. Id. As to these claims, for all plaintiffs their claims failed because they could not show that the defendant’s reasons were pretextual and not legitimate. Id. All the plaintiffs were fired for doing something wrong at their job and since none of the plaintiffs brought forward any evidence showing these actions to be pretextual, the Court granted the motion to dismiss on these counts.
This case goes to show how hard it is for plaintiff to win a racial discrimination case. The burden of proving a prima facie case is steep. And it is not enough to say the employer did this or did that once or twice. It has to be severe and pervasive. As some of the case law says, the courts are not there to be the “civility police.” And this I know is very unfortunate. As some other case law says, there is harassment and then there is discriminatory harassment. So, I hope that if you are being harassed at work or discriminated against that you take from these cases something. That you learn to document things. That you keep a paper trial as to what is going on and that if things get really bad, that you contact a harassment or discrimination lawyer.
If you have been the subject of a Louisville race discrimination matter, please call and speak to a Louisville race discrimination lawyer at the Law Offices of Andrew S. Alitowski at 888-ASK-ANDREW (275-2637) or contact us online. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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