Federal Court in Georgia Grants Summary Judgment Motion Against Employee Who Claimed Racial Discrimination and FMLA Retaliation

In a setback for one employee, a federal district court in Georgia recently ruled against her on a summary judgment motion.  Kejar Butler had claimed racial discrimination and retaliation for taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

In Butler v. SunTrust Bank, Kejar Butler was an African American woman who began working for SunTrust in January 2005.  During the fall of 2011, Butler took eight weeks of leave in order to give birth to her child.  At the time, Butler was the assistant branch manager of the Thomasville branch of SunTrust, and during her absence, the position of branch manager became vacant.  Butler applied for the position, and upon return from maternity leave, was interviewed along with two other internal candidates.  Eventually SunTrust hired a different candidate, a white woman.

The area manager who did the hiring had directly supervised and evaluated both Butler and Heather Barnes, the woman who was hired.  During the interview process, he interviewed Barnes in person and Butler by telephone.  Following her interview, Butler learned that she would not be getting the manager position due to her poor client service scores and inadequate coaching logs.  Butler complained to the SunTrust management, then later went on to file a lawsuit on the grounds of Title VII racial discrimination and retaliation against her for exercising her rights under the FMLA.  SunTrust responded by filing a motion for summary judgment.

In determining whether to grant SunTrust’s motion, the district court looked at whether Butler had made the case for either of her claims.  Racial discrimination first requires a prima facie showing of discrimination, including: (1) that Butler belonged to a protected class; (2) that Butler was qualified for the position; (3) that despite her qualifications, she was rejected; and (4) the position was filled with an individual outside the protected class.  Since Butler was able to make a prima facie case, the burden then shifted to SunTrust to provide a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the hiring decision.  SunTrust claimed that Butler was not chosen because she was not the most qualified candidate.  Among the evidence used to support this claim, the employer noted that Butler had the lowest client service score in the South Georgia market that year, that Barnes had better business development and client service logs, that Barnes had performed better in previous roles, and that Butler lacked a true leadership plan.  The district court noted that SunTrust’s reasons were legitimate, and the burden then shifted to Butler to show that these reasons were just pretext for the discrimination.  The court therefore found that Butler failed to make the case for racial discrimination.

Butler argued that she was the more qualified of the two candidates.  For instance, Butler had a bachelors degree in business administration, while Barnes had just an associate degree in business management.  The district court disagreed, finding that the experience of both candidates was comparable — for instance, both women served as assistant branch managers for several years.  It was not a case where any reasonable person would have chosen Butler over Barnes.  Furthermore, while Butler had job performance issues, there was no sign that Barnes had any.

The district court also rejected Butler’s claim that she had suffered retaliation due to taking FMLA leave.  Although Butler claimed that not being promoted amounted to retaliation, the court stated that Butler had failed to show that SunTrust’s actions were motivated by impermissible retaliation or discrimination.  Therefore, the FMLA claim was denied as well, and the district court granted summary judgment in favor of SunTrust.

Parks, Chesin & Walbert represents plaintiffs in employment matters, including employment discrimination, wage and hour, FMLA, and more.  With offices in Atlanta and Nashville, we offer a client-centered philosophy and strive to accomplish our clients’ goals as if they are our own.  If you live in Georgia or Tennessee and need an experienced Atlanta employment law attorney, contact us today at 404-873-8048.

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