Dismissal of Georgia Woman’s Employment Discrimination and FMLA Claims Affirmed on Appeal

Federal law protects employees against racial discrimination and actions taken in retaliation for an employee’s assertion of his or her rights under certain federal laws designed for the protection of workers. However, an Atlanta employment discrimination claim will not be viable in every alleged instance of discrimination or retaliation.

In order to prove his or her case, the plaintiff must have enough evidence to survive the inevitable motion to dismiss by the employer, and this is not always an easy task. Consulting an experienced employment law attorney who can help the plaintiff build his or her case is essential.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a recent case was an African American woman who was hired to work as a property manager for the defendant employer in 2012. She was promoted to area manager in 2014 but demoted back to property manager in 2015. After being terminated later that year, the plaintiff filed suit in federal district court alleging that she was terminated because of her race in violation of  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) and 42 U.S.C. § 1981; that the defendant had interfered with her rights under the family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); and that the defendant had retaliated against her for asserting her rights under FMLA.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, pointing to several alleged defects in the plaintiff’s performance of her job. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, thereby dismissing the plaintiff’s suit in its entirety. The plaintiff appealed.

Decision on Appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court began by explaining that, while Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee because of his or her race, the plaintiff in a suit seeking to assert his or her legal rights under this law must establish that there is at least one material issue of fact regarding the defendant’s alleged race discrimination in order for the case to survive a defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Otherwise, the defendant is entitled to dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, as there would be no reason for the matter to continue to a trial in front of the finder or finders of fact (the judge or jury). Mere allegations are not enough; the plaintiff must point to specific evidence, either direct or circumstantial, to support her claims.

In applying this standard, the appellate tribunal agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that there were genuine issues of material fact such that the defendant’s motion should have been denied. While there may have been some racially derogatory language used in the workplace, the court did not find that the plaintiff had presented direct evidence of widespread racial hostility in the defendant’s managerial ranks. Although the plaintiff pointed to certain circumstantial evidence (the timing of her termination, other “bits and pieces” of evidence, and evidence that the defendant’s reasons for her termination were merely pretextual) that she alleged supported her case, the appellate court was unconvinced by the “mosaic of circumstantial evidence” upon which the plaintiff relied.

As to the plaintiff’s FMLA claims, the appellate court agreed with the lower tribunal that the plaintiff was not an “eligible employee” under the statute and that, thus, her FMLA claim failed.

Fight Against Unlawful Discrimination in the Workplace

The law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert is currently reviewing Atlanta employment discrimination and FMLA retaliation claims. For an appointment to learn more about how we can be of service in your case, call us at 404-873-8048 or use the contact form on this website. We look forward to serving your legal needs.

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