TSA Defeats a Race Discrimination Claim Arising from Its Investigation into an Allegation of Sexual Harassment

A few years ago, Harvard University conducted a poll about discrimination. The results revealed that 57% of African-American workers “reported discrimination in pay and consideration for promotions.” While the denial of promotions based on a candidate’s race remains a serious problem, it is also true that some denials of promotions to minority candidates are the result of legitimate, non-discriminatory standards and decision-making. Whether you’re a worker who has experienced a racially discriminatory denial of a promotion, or you’re an employer facing a misguided claim of discriminatory conduct, a knowledgeable Atlanta race discrimination lawyer can help you address your situation promptly and effectively.

A recent race discrimination case that originated here in Atlanta provides an example of the latter of the two possibilities above. The worker, P.D., was an African-American man who worked for the Transportation Security Administration’s Atlanta field office as a supervisory air marshal. In 2016, he applied for two higher-lever positions — one in Atlanta and one in Miami. The TSA awarded the positions to two white employees in February 2017.

One month later, anonymous coworkers at the Atlanta office alleged that P.D. had engaged in a years-long pattern of rampant sexual harassment of female coworkers. The marshal sexually harassed women at “every level” of the Atlanta office and also retaliated against women who rebuffed his advances, according to the letter. The TSA’s investigation into the allegations found that the marshal engaged in misconduct.

In 2020, the marshal sued for harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

The employer fought back successfully. For an employee to have a valid harassment claim, he needs to prove that:

  1. “he belongs to a protected group;
  2. he has been subject to unwelcome harassment;
  3. the harassment was based on a protected characteristic;
  4. the harassment was ‘sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the terms and conditions of employment and create a discriminatorily abusive working environment'”; and
  5. the employer is liable under either vicarious or direct liability.

In the marshal’s case, he lacked proof that the harassment he allegedly endured was the result of his membership in a protected class (i.e., was because of his race.) The employer received an allegation of serial sexual harassment by P.D., initiated an internal investigation as a result of that allegation, issued to the marshal a “cease-and-desist” letter informing him of the allegations and demanding that he “refrain from any misconduct” or “discussing the matter with anyone other than his supervisors,” and ultimately issued a letter of reprimand stating that the employer deemed his conduct as a violation of workplace policy and “unbecoming a supervisor.” No reasonable juror could find that the TSA engaged in any of those actions because P.D. was African-American, according to the court.

TSA Had a Legitimate Basis for Its Promotion Decisions

The employer also had a persuasive argument regarding the promotion denials. In both instances — Atlanta and Miami — the TSA had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for passing over P.D. One of the qualifications that the employer valued highly for the role was “experience working in multiple offices.” Both of the successful candidates had that experience, while P.D.’s entire tenure was in the Atlanta office.

The team of experienced Atlanta race discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert has a proven track record of successfully representing both workers and employers. If your business stands wrongfully accused of illegal discrimination… or if you’re a worker who has experienced mistreatment because of your race, we’re here to do a thorough investigation of the situation and provide you with the advice and advocacy you need. Contact us today at 404-873-8048 or through this website to schedule a consultation.

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