Legal

A Diverse Workforce is the Best Defense for a Discrimination Claim

By Jon Hyman

Sep. 18, 2014

Wilson v. Chipotle Mexican Grille (6th Cir. 9/17/15) [pdf] is not an unusual or distinct case, yet it teaches employers an important lesson about how to win a discrimination case.

Catherine Wilson, an African-American female, worked as a part-time crew member at a Cincinnati Chipotle. Her reviews listed her as a “low performer,” and her supervisors counseled her about her “attitude.” Wilson requested, and was denied, a 10-day leave of absence to go to Disney World. Because of her insistence for the time off, however, her manager took her off the schedule for those 10 days and considered her to have quit her job.

When she was fired after attempting to work after she “quit,” she sued the restaurant for race and sex discrimination.

The court had little trouble dispensing with the employer’s claim that Wilson had quit her job. Whether or not she requested time off, she returned to work the next day with the intent to work. Those actions do not demonstrate a voluntary resignation.

Regardless, the employer still won the case because Wilson could not show that she was replaced by someone outside the protected classes.

Wilson offered no evidence that Chipotle replaced her with white or male employees. To the contrary, Wilson’s part-time slot was picked up by three African-American females and one African-American male. The Clifton branch work force was 75 percent African American during the relevant period, and Wilson offers no evidence that this changed at the time.

So, what’s the best defense to a discrimination claim? Hire others in the same protected group. If your workplace is three-quarters black, it becomes very hard for a black employee to claim disparate treatment. If you replace that black, female employee with three other black females, and a black male, it’s case over.

An African-American, female employee cannot show discrimination when you replace her with another African-American female. All the more reason to maintain a diverse workforce. And, an important point to consider if you need to replace a fired employee that you think might turn around and sue.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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