On February 3, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment on a white construction worker’s claims for reverse racial discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981. Deets v. Massman Construction Company, et al., No. 15-1411 (7th Cir., 2/3/2016). The plaintiff filed a lawsuit in which he alleged that the employer laid him off because of his race, white. Title VII’s prohibition against racial discrimination includes reverse discrimination. The plaintiff alleged that when he asked the project superintendent for the reason he was being laid off, the superintendent told him that his “minority numbers” aren’t right; “I’m supposed to have 13.9 percent minorities on this job and I’ve only got 8 percent.” The plaintiff further alleged that later on the day of his lay-off, another superintendent stated to him that he was “sorry to hear about this minority thing.”
In addition, a crane operator swore in an affidavit that the project superintendent told him that he “would have to terminate [the plaintiff’s] 40-hour-minimum work week because there was an insufficient number of non-white workers at the Worksite.” The superintendent filled the position by hiring a racial minority the day after he terminated the plaintiff. The superintendent admitted that replacing a white worker with a minority worker so that the company could meet its minority participation goals would violate the affirmative-action plan and equal-employment opportunity policy. The 7th Circuit held that the district court erred as a matter of law when it determined that the superintendent’s statement was not direct evidence of discrimination. Direct evidence is evidence which, if believed by the jury, would prove discriminatory conduct on the part of the employer without reliance on inference or presumption. A statement’s temporal proximity to the adverse job action is often crucial when determining whether the statement qualifies as direct evidence of discrimination. Based on the statement, one could conclude without inference that the plaintiff was laid off because he was not a minority. It is clear from the statement that race was the factor that led to the plaintiff’s termination of employment. Thus, there was sufficient direct evidence that the plaintiff was laid off because of his race; and the case will advance to trial, where the plaintiff will seek relief in the form of lost wages, back pay, front pay, lost fringe benefits, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.