On March 24, 2015, the 7th Circuit reversed summary judgment in a Title VII race discrimination case. Hutchens v. Chicago Board of Education, et al., No. 13-3648 (7th Cir.). The case involved a large-scale layoff and reorganization. The plaintiff alleged that she was laid off while a less qualified white employee was selected for retention instead of her because of her race (black). There was only one open position. The district court accepted the defendant’s explanation for its selection as a non-pretextual justification. The 7th Circuit, however, stated that there was considerable doubt about the honesty of the main witnesses for the defense as well as an absence of any corroborating documentary evidence.
Moreover, when the alleged discriminator recommended the other candidate to the final decision-maker, she did not even mention to him that the plaintiff was also a candidate for the position. This was a “cat’s paw” case, where the ultimate decision-maker is an “unknowing tool” of the alleged discriminator. The plaintiff appeared to have greater seniority than the successful candidate as well as superior credentials. A reasonable jury could conclude that the plaintiff was the better qualified of the two and that race was the decisive factor.