Stephen A. Glickman, P.C.
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7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Title VII Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On August 5, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of a defendant-employer in a Title VII race discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that her teaching contract was not renewed on account of her race.Allen-Noll v. Madison Area Technical College, et al.,No. 19-2639 (7th Cir. Aug. 5, 2020). When her teaching contract with the MATC was not renewed, the plaintiff sued her former employer, alleging racial discrimination and harassment. The primary adverse employment action that the plaintiff claimed to have suffered was the college’s decision to not renew her contract. However, she offered no evidence that this was because of her race, or in retaliation for her internal complaint of discrimination. Her allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation were unsupported by any facts.

The record demonstrated that the college had legitimate, performance-based reasons not to renew her contract. The record contained no evidence that race played any role in the college’s decision to not renew her contract. In addition, she failed to identifya similarly-situated employee outside of her protected class who was treated more favorably than her. She also failed to establish that the college’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for not renewing her contract were pretextual. The plaintiff simply failed to produce evidence to establish the elements of her Title VII employment discrimination claim.

7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment for Employer in Title VII Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On January 3, 2020, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting a defendant-employer’s motion for summary judgment in a Title VII race discrimination failure-to-promote lawsuit. Barnes v. Board of Trustees Of The University of Illinois, et al., No. 19-1781 (7th Cir. Jan. 3, 2020). The plaintiff filed a federal lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) after an administrator of the defendant-employer promoted a white applicant instead of the plaintiff, who is African-American. The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court’s order of summary judgment because the plaintiff did not present evidence that the administrator’s stated reason for selecting the white applicant was pretext for unlawful racial discrimination.

The applicable legal standard at summary judgment in a Title VII employment discrimination case is whether the evidence would permit a reasonable jury to conclude that discrimination caused the subject adverse employment action–in this case, the failure to promote. The burden-shifting proof paradigm established by the U.S. Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) remains a useful framework for focusing the evidence. To survive summary judgment on his failure-to-promote claim, the plaintiff was required to present evidence that: (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) he was qualified for the position sought; (3) he was rejected for the position; and (4) someone outside the protected class who was not better qualified was hired instead. If he meets these elements of a prima facie case of employment discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to produce evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for hiring the white applicant over the plaintiff. The burden of proof then shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence that the employer’s proffered reason was pretext for discrimination. Because the prima facie and pretext inquiry often overlap, if a defendant offers a nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse job action, the court may proceed directly to the pretext analysis.

The defendant proffered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for hiring the white applicant instead of the plaintiff: the administrator believed, based on his interview, that he was the best candidate for the position. Selecting a candidate that an employer honestly believes is better qualified for a position is a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason. The plaintiff did not present evidence that suggested that the administrator lied about the reason. Therefore, he failed to establish pretext. Pretext is not just faulty reasoning or mistaken judgment on the part of an employer; rather, pretext is a lie–a phony reason for an adverse employment decision. While the plaintiff criticized the defendant’s hiring process, he did not present any evidence that the process was a ruse for racial discrimination. Pretext is based on the veracity of a proffered reason, not whether an employer’s decision-making process was accurate, wise, or well-considered.

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