A Georgia Worker’s Self-Authored Discrimination Complaint Fails Due to Multiple Pleading Mistakes

If you believe that you’ve been the target of discrimination at work, the right Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer can help you in innumerable ways. One of the key areas where your attorney will help is the composition of the complaint that you’ll file with the court.

There are certain things you must do and certain things you must not do, and failures in these areas can lead to the dismissal of your case. Getting this right is critical, and many potential traps await those who don’t know what they’re doing.

The discrimination case of an employee at a southwest Georgia college makes for a good example. In any discrimination case, you have to allege that you suffered some type of adverse employment action. There are a lot of different actions your employer can take that the law may recognize as adverse. Obviously, getting fired is an adverse action. So is a demotion, and even a lateral transfer may be adverse if your new job has lower pay or is less desirable or prestigious.

Negative performance evaluations, disciplinary “write-ups,” and suspensions without pay are adverse. Be aware, though, that a suspension with full pay may not qualify as an adverse employment action under the law.

The Importance of Clarity and Precision

So what adverse action did the college employee suffer? Based on her complaint, the answer would seem to be… almost all of them. She alleged that she was “subjected to a pattern of discriminatory conduct including failure to hire, termination of employment, failure to promote, failure to accommodate disability, unequal terms and conditions of employment, retaliation, and ‘hostile, unsafe, and unhealthy work environment.’”

Generally, the discriminatory animus that leads to illegal employment action and a lawsuit relates to the employee’s membership in one protected class (including race, sex, religion, ethnicity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity,) but, in some circumstances, a case may involve multiple causes for discrimination. If you have a case where you were the target of discrimination or harassment due to your membership in multiple protected classes, it is important to state clearly how your case ties to each area or to the intersection of multiple groups. Say, for example, say you’re a gay Latino man and your coworkers routinely harass you about your ethnicity but, when you complained, your HR manager said, “Oh no. Another gay drama queen complaining about another nothingburger.” In that case, you’ve got possible proof in multiple areas — sexual orientation and race/ethnicity. Similarly, if you’re a Black woman and your supervisor occasionally addresses you using a combination of the N-word and the B-word, then that’s (in addition to being grossly offensive) strong evidence of discrimination against you as a Black woman.

The college employee’s complaint lacked those kinds of specifics clearly tied to a protected category. She said she was a “black female with Christian values” and had a “physical or mental impairment,” but did not specifically link any workplace mistreatment to her race, sex, religion, or disability.

As noted above, it’s important to be specific, and this woman failed to do that. The law does not require that a civil plaintiff file a complaint that contains “detailed factual allegations,” but your complaint must have “more than labels or conclusions.” It’s not enough to say “Race discrimination is illegal under federal law. I was the victim of race discrimination. My employer treated me less well on the job than my white coworkers. The end.”

Ultimately, the college employee’s complaint contained too many allegations that were merely conclusory, and so the court threw out her case.

Did this worker have a legitimate case or not? Based on this court opinion, one can only guess. Perhaps she did and simply lost due to poor pleading. Don’t let that happen to you. If you’ve endured discrimination and/or harassment on the job, get in touch with the knowledgeable Atlanta employment discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. We’ve fought successfully for countless workers like you, and we’re ready to get started on your case. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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