Eleventh Circuit Addresses Title VII Discrimination Claim in Downsizing Case

Layoffs. Downsizing. Reductions in force. These words and phrases can be painful for employees and employers alike. However, the issue of downsizing an employee can be especially tricky if that employee is also a member of a protected class, such as women or racial minorities. In a case recently decided by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a downsized employee brought but lost a sex discrimination case against her employer. She lost because she couldn’t prove an essential part of her case, which was that she was qualified to assume another open job with her employer after her employer eliminated her position.

The employee in the case, Miriam Crisman, started working for Florida Atlantic University in 1986 as a computer programmer. In 2012, under the strain of budget cuts, the university eliminated several positions, including Crisman’s. Of the six positions in the university’s Office of Information Technology that were eliminated, five were held by men. The sixth was Crisman’s. When the university laid off Crisman, there were no open full-time positions in the OIT.

Crisman sued the university for sex discrimination under Title VII. For employees suing under Title VII who lost their jobs as a result of downsizing, the law offers a standard for proving discrimination that is unique to that circumstance. The first step in any Title VII discrimination case is establishing a prima facie case of discrimination. In layoff cases, the employee can meet this prima facie standard by proving that she was qualified for other jobs with the employer for which she applied, but she was not placed in any of those positions.

The employer in this case asked the trial court to issue a summary judgment in its favor, and the judge did so. Crisman, the trial court decided, failed to prove that she was qualified for any positions at the university that were vacant at the time of her layoff.

The 11th Circuit upheld the decision of the trial court. Although the employee cited a computer applications specialist job and several help desk positions in support of her claim that she had met her legal requirement for establishing a prima facie case, these positions did not count. The specialist job was held by a man who was out on medical leave, and the help desk positions were staffed by students. The employer was not required to fire this male specialist or the male students working in help desk jobs in order to escape sex discrimination liability. The university was not required to terminate any workers to create a position for Crisman, but it was only required to consider her “for positions available at the time of her termination for which she was qualified and for which she actually applied.”

Employers in Georgia, as in every state, may potentially face the need to downsize as they seek to cope with certain economic realities. Whether you are an employer facing a discrimination claim from a downsized employee or a worker who has been discriminated against in the way your employer handled layoffs, the diligent Georgia sex discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have the knowledge and skills to help you in protecting your rights and carrying out your case.

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

More blog posts:

New 11th Circuit Decision Changes the Way Some Discrimination Cases Will Be Decided in Georgia, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, March 10, 2016

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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