The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a Georgia employee’s lawsuit that alleged unlawful race and age discrimination. The plaintiff asserted that he was fired from his job because of his race and age in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“the Act”) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The employer, a company that made and shipped water treatment chemicals, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff was fired for his on-the-job performance. The trial court granted the motion, and, on appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of many personal characteristics, including race. Under the Act, an employer with 15 or more employees may not fire an employee because of his or her race. Similarly, the ADEA prohibits discrimination against employees who are at least 40 years old.
When the evidence presented by the plaintiff is circumstantial, courts use a burden-shifting method to evaluate Civil Rights Act and ADEA cases. Under this examination, the plaintiff must first present a prima facie case of discrimination. Then, the burden shifts to the employer to show some acceptable reason for its unfavorable employment action — in this case, the plaintiff’s termination. Assuming the defendant is able to do this, the burden shifts back to the employee to show that the given reason is merely pretextual. In other words, it is simply an excuse for unlawful discrimination.
Although the trial court found that the plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of discrimination, the Eleventh Circuit did not address this issue. Instead, it focused on the plaintiff’s burden to prove that the employer’s reason for firing him was a pretext for unlawful discrimination.
In response to the claim, the defendant cited the employee’s poor performance as the reason for his dismissal. By the plaintiff’s own admission, he made several errors concerning the shipment of customer orders and failed to make improvements after management addressed the quality of his work.
The Eleventh Circuit found that this was a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for the plaintiff’s firing. The court affirmed the trial court’s granting of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment without examining the other bases on which it was granted, since this issue was determinative of the case.
This case serves as an example of the difficulty that many employment discrimination plaintiffs face when bringing a case against current or former employers. It is rare that employees find direct evidence of discriminatory intent. They are therefore left relying on circumstantial evidence to prove their claims. It is easy for employers to devise some legitimate-looking reason for the discriminatory action, which leaves the employee searching for proof that the reason given is pretextual.
The Atlanta employment discrimination attorneys at Parks, Chesin & Walbert have helped many Georgia residents bring claims against employers responsible for unlawful discrimination. We have the experience and knowledge necessary to find and effectively present evidence relevant to your case. If you were fired from your job simply because of your race, gender, or age, we can help. For a free evaluation of the merits of your case, call 404-873-8048.