On March 10, 2016, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant in an employment lawsuit in which a white male postal worker alleged that he was a victim of reverse race discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended (“Title VII”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Formella v. Brennan, No. 15-1402 (7th Cir., 3/10/2016). The plaintiff argued that he established a claim of reverse discrimination based on the denial of a transfer to a favorable position and the selection of an allegedly less qualified non-white employee for the position. The traditional indirect burden-shifting method of proof enunciated in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green is modified in the 7th Circuit by Mills v. Health Care Services Corp. for reverse discrimination cases. A reverse discrimination plaintiff must establish that: (1) background circumstances exist to create an inference that the employer has reason or inclination to discriminate invidiously against whites, or evidence that there is something “fishy” about the facts at hand; (2) he or she was meeting the employer’s legitimate performance expectations; (3) he or she suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) he or she was treated less favorably than similarly situated individuals who are not members of his or her protected class. Under the modified reverse discrimination standard, the plaintiff, rather than merely alleging that he or she is a member of a protected class, is required to present background circumstances showing that the employer or decision-maker had a reason or motivation to discriminate against whites. Notably, this is a heightened standard of proof for reverse discrimination claims.
In this case, the 7th Circuit affirmed the district court because the plaintiff did not address or meet the reverse discrimination standard, but instead simply alleged that he was a member of the protected classes, and the only white candidate for the position. He also failed to identify similarly situated employees who are non-white and who were treated more favorably than him. Consequently, the plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case of reverse racial discrimination, and his case will not proceed to a jury trial. The 7th Circuit also affirmed summary judgment on his age discrimination and retaliation claims.