11th Circuit: Attacking Employer’s Business Judgment Not Enough to Show Pretext in Discrimination Case

An employee at an auto parts manufacturer was unsuccessful in his pursuit of his claim of race and national origin discrimination. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the employer because the employee’s attacks on the employer’s nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions did not demonstrate that the employer’s reasons were mere pretexts for discrimination. Although the case originated in Alabama, the 11th Circuit’s ruling is very instructive for Georgia employees regarding what does (or does not) show pretext in employment discrimination cases.

The alleged victim of discrimination was Claude Short, who had worked for Mando American Corp. as the Quality Director at its Opelika, Alabama facility since 2006. By late 2008, the employer had transitioned Short into a new role. The employer wanted Short to work from an office in suburban Detroit, but he persuaded the company to let him work from a vacation home he owned in Tennessee.

By the summer of 2009, the company president regretted the remote-work arrangement and reassigned Short to an office in Michigan. Short agreed to go, but only pursuant to certain conditions. The employer refused the employee’s conditions and ultimately terminated the employee. Short sued in federal court in Alabama, alleging that Mando discriminated against him based upon his race and national origin, and it had retaliated against him. Short, who was a Caucasian American, contended that the employer removed him from the quality director job because management desired to replace him with an employee who was Korean.

The employer prevailed in the federal district court. Short appealed but was again unsuccessful. The allegations in the employee’s complaint laid out a case of discrimination, namely that Mando made its decision to demote and relocate him due to his race and national origin. This meant that the law required the employer to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action. In Short’s case, Mando claimed that reassigning Short to its suburban Detroit office and modifying his duties would lower its costs and improve its service to its customers, specifically the “Big Three” domestic automakers.

An employee can still succeed if he can establish that the supposed reasons the employer offered were only pretexts for discrimination. In attempting to make this showing, Short argued that Mando’s claims of cost savings and improved customer service were not sound business judgments and were too subjective. These arguments did not establish pretext. An employer’s stated nondiscriminatory reasons, even if they are completely incorrect or mistaken, are nevertheless not pretexts as long as the employer sincerely believes them. Also, subjective business reasons are as valid as objective ones, the court stated.

As an employee, succeeding in an employment discrimination case requires both a sound claim of discriminatory treatment and, in many cases, showing that the reasons the employer submitted to the court are really just covering for the real (and discriminatory) reasons. If you, as a Georgia employee, think that you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination, you should talk to the hardworking Georgia employment discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our diligent and knowledgeable attorneys can offer you the thoughtful advice and zealous advocacy you need for your case.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 404-873-8048.

More blog posts:

Alleged Recruiting Violations Doom Georgia High School Football Coach’s Racial Discrimination Suit, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Nov. 11, 2015

Georgia City’s First Female Warden Loses Jail Post, Then Loses Gender Discrimination Case, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 21, 2015

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