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Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Clears Employer From Race Bias Suit

This discrimination case is a heartening legal victory for the employer.

A Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed with defendant employer Freedom Mortgage Co. in a racial discrimination suit filed by an African-American former employee. The Seventh Circuit upheld a lower court's ruling that the former employee didn't have proof that the employer fired him because he was African-American.

The former employee, Joseph Reed, said the Company disciplined him more harshly than White co-workers for tardiness.

Reed had a history of attendance problems. Reed was fired as part of a staffing reduction (along with a White employee and another African-American employee).

FORMER EMPLOYEE COULD NOT PROVE THAT SIMILARLY SITUATED EMPLOYEES WERE TREATED MORE FAVORABLY: The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that Reed had failed to gather evidence showing there were any non-African-American employees with attendance policy violations closely resembling Reed's. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that Reed didn't demonstrate that the Freedom Mortgage treated similarly situated employees more favorably.

Reed failed to identify any similarly situated employees outside of his protected class who were treated more favorably than him by Freedom Mortgage under similar circumstances. The White employees identified by Reed were not valid comparators because they had more seniority than Reed and had no disciplinary history like Reed's. Therefore, Reed could not establish disparate treatment and his claim failed as a matter of law.

MUST HAVE PROVEN FACTUAL CONTENT: In this case, it wasn't clear that the co-workers Reed said he observed arriving late were expected to punch in at the same time he was. Reed's legal position lacked factual context.

Reed sued under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgement in favor of Freedom Mortgage. Reed simply had no evidence that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated non-African Americans. Reed failed to show that the denials of his request to work from home were adverse employment actions. Reed could not prove hostile work environment.

This Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision may give heart to employers. Simply claiming an employer does something discriminatory does not automatically mean that the Judge will agree with the disgruntled ex-employee. Actual and convincing factual proof of discrimination by the employer is what courts look for.

For assistance with difficult and high risk terminations, contact Attorney Nancy E. Joerg who can be reached at Wessels Sherman's St. Charles, Illinois office: (630) 377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.

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