A Local TV Station’s Documentation of an Employee’s Misconduct Helps It Defeat that Worker’s Discrimination Claim

Proper written documentation can be the difference between success and failure for an employer facing a discrimination lawsuit. The more contemporaneously created items showing the issues the employee had, the more support the employer will have for an argument that it took adverse action against the employee for legitimate reasons and not because of impermissible discrimination. While sufficient documentation is vital, too much extraneous documentation potentially can give a worker extra bases for attacking an employer’s decision-making, so striking the proper balance in documenting employees’ HR files is a must. If you have questions about your documentation practices and compliance with discrimination law, be sure to check with a knowledgeable Atlanta race discrimination lawyer.

A race discrimination case involving a well-known figure in this city shows a clear example of this.

The plaintiff was a white man who worked as an on-air meteorologist for one of Atlanta’s TV stations from 2012 to 2019. During that time, the meteorologist allegedly engaged in numerous acts of sexual harassment, including informing a female colleague that he dreamt about sex with her and telling a different station employee about a group sex experience he supposedly had.

After those women complained, the station issued a written warning. A few months later, the meteorologist allegedly harassed a female news producer, stating his sexual interest in her and his desire for her to send him nude pictures. This incident led the station to issue a “final” written warning. A year and a half later, the meteorologist allegedly harassed a different female employee, so the station set out to fire the meteorologist.

The human resources department followed standard practice and drafted an “EEO Analysis” form. The form stated that the proposed termination resulted from the meteorologist’s numerous violations of the employer’s sexual harassment and hostile work environment policies. The form also listed the meteorologist’s race, sex, and age.

The meteorologist sued for race discrimination, arguing that the inclusion of his race in the EEO Analysis form tainted the termination process and led the employer to approve the firing because he was white.

Section 1981 Discrimination Cases Versus Title VII Actions

While many workers who allegedly were the victims of race discrimination pursue relief under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the meteorologist advanced his race discrimination claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1981.

Several noteworthy distinctions exist between a Title VII discrimination claim and a Section 1981 discrimination claim. For one thing, you can go directly to court with a 1981 claim, whereas a Title VII claim requires that you first file a formal charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — and you have only 180 days to file that charge. Section 1981 has a longer time period in which you can sue — four years.

Section 1981 claims have no limit on the amount of compensation you can recover, but they (unlike Title VII claims) apply only to instances of intentional discrimination. Additionally, a worker must prove that race discrimination was the “but for” cause of his termination.

The Worker’s Case Was Too Speculative

The meteorologist didn’t have that proof, so the trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the employer, ending the case before it made it to trial. The meteorologist’s lack of success is a useful reminder of what workers need to establish a case of intentional discrimination, and what employers can do when they defend against inadequate claims.

Here, the meteorologist’s case rose and fell around two facts: that the EEO Analysis form included his race (white,) and that the employer replaced him with a Latina woman.

This body of evidence did not “remotely approach the amount of evidence necessary for a reasonable jury to conclude that [the meteorologist] was fired because of his race.” The inclusion of the meteorologist’s race on the form was “completely neutral.” The elements of the man’s case that pointed to discrimination were too speculative to constitute a viable claim.

Given those weaknesses in the man’s case, the employer was entitled to seek summary judgment, and the trial court was entitled to grant that motion.

Whether you’re an employer seeking to ensure that your policies do not expose you to potential discrimination liability, or you’re a worker who has endured race discrimination in the workplace, the experienced Atlanta race discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help you protect your interests to the maximum extent under the law. Contact us today at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

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