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Good Evidence of Pretext Saves Hispanic Discrimination Claims

Employee’s Subjective Opinion of Adverse Employment Action Not Controlling

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court that governs cases arising in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, recently heard the Title VII claims of a Hispanic employee who was transferred and then terminated from her Human Resources position at a meat-packing plant. Although the employee’s claims were dismissed at the trial court level, the Eleventh Circuit reversed that decision based on compelling evidence of pretext.


Vinson v. Koch Foods of Alabama, LLC


In the case of Vinson v. Koch Foods of Alabama, LLC, recently decided by the Eleventh Circuit, a Hispanic human resources employee claims she received discriminatory discipline and was ultimately terminated when two white employees were not. According to the lawsuit, the employee (Vinson) and two of her white co-workers in the HR office left work without permission to visit another co-worker who was in the hospital. When they returned to work after leaving the office unattended, they were all suspended.


Different Treatment after Suspension


Vinson was not allowed to return from suspension until one day after the two white employees. Although the white employees were allowed to return to their prior positions, her workstation in the Human Resources office was removed and a “new” position was created for Vinson which required her to perform production line duties. This meant she was required to handle chicken carcasses. The job duties of the two white employees were not changed.


Subsequent Termination


Approximately four months after the suspension, Vinson was terminated by the Human Resources manager, purportedly because the plan manager said Vinson was not performing well and requested that the position be eliminated. This was contrary to the plant manager’s testimony that he did not make that recommendation. After Vinson was terminated, the plant did not fill the “new” position that had been created for her.


Court Ruling on Discriminatory Discipline Claim


The trial court initially dismissed the discriminatory discipline claim ruling that she had not suffered an adverse employment action. Part of the court’s reasoning was that Vinson testified she did not really mind the work she was required to perform on the production floor and she had received a raise a while after she was transferred. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed because the employee’s subjective view of her employer’s actions was not the controlling principle here. Nor did the raise she received negate the adverse nature of her transfer.


Instead, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the new position that was created for her involved substantially different job duties than her prior position. For instance, Vinson no longer had computer access and had been removed from the office. She was now required to saw chicken carcasses and hang dead poultry on shackles, among other things. The two white employees were not required to perform these duties after their suspension for the exact same offense.


Ultimately, the appellate court found that a jury could reasonably see these actions as being an adverse employment action.


If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!