Federal Court in Tennessee Allows Racial Discrimination Case to Move Forward

A federal court in Tennessee granted in part and denied in part an employer’s motion for summary judgment in a case involving racial discrimination and unpaid wages.

In Davis v. FedEx Corporate Services, Inc., Rosie Davis was an African American who began working for FedEx in 1989.  Beginning in 2003, she began working as a Marketing Coordinator, considered to be a nonexempt position, which means that she was entitled to overtime pay for hours exceeding eight in one day, or 40 per week.  However, Davis believed that she was performing the duties of an Associate Marketing Specialist, an exempt position with higher pay.

Davis made a complaint in 2010 that she was working “out of class,” and her coworkers testified that she had performed significant managerial tasks, including training numerous colleagues and conducting meetings.  FedEx then performed a job reclassification audit, which included an interview with Davis, review of her performance appraisals, and discussion with her supervisor.  Davis detailed the extent of her job duties, and the investigator appeared surprised by the scope.  Even so, Davis learned later that month that her job would not receive a reclassification because her work was primarily administrative.  The conclusions were based on findings that Davis had never run a meeting and her statements were highly exaggerated.

Davis filed an internal EEO complaint, claiming her job should have been reclassified as exempt.  When her claim was rejected, she was encouraged to apply for an open exempt position, Associate Marketing Specialist.  She received the position at the end of 2010.  In 2011, she sought to be promoted into a higher position and learned that, due to her seven or eight years of experience, she was eligible to be promoted into an even higher position than she sought, Senior Marketing Specialist.  However, her supervisor never informed her of this possibility and did not take her nonexempt work seriously.

Davis was also never informed that, despite receiving a salary, she was entitled to overtime compensation.  The first time Davis learned that she was entitled to such compensation was in 2010.  She complained to her supervisors, believing that she should receive overtime pay for work going back to 2005.  Davis finally filed a racial discrimination claim at the EEOC in 2011, claiming that her not being informed of the option to receive overtime pay, as well as the failure to reclassify her position, was racially motivated.  Finally, she filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging discrimination and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations.

The court reviewed both Davis’s Title VII racial discrimination claim and her wage and hour claim.  Since Davis provided no direct evidence of discrimination, the court analyzed her claim using the McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting framework, where the plaintiff must make a prima facie case that gives rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.  The court found that Davis made that case, in that (1) she was an African American who (2) suffered an adverse employment action and (3) was qualified for the positions she sought to fill, and (4) she was treated differently from similarly situated, non-protected employees, who were all promoted and made more money.  The court also found that Davis met her burden of showing that FedEx’s legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its actions (that she did not have enough experience) were just pretexts for discrimination by providing evidence that she had the requisite experience to fill the positions.  Therefore, the court denied FedEx’s motion for summary judgment against Davis’s racial discrimination claim, allowing the claim to move forward.

However, the court rejected Davis’s FLSA claim, finding that FedEx’s failure to tell her about overtime pay was not willful.  That said, the court found that Davis could still be entitled to liquidated damages.

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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