Direct Evidence Must … Wait for It … Exist to Matter in a Discrimination Case

By Jon Hyman

Apr. 8, 2015

You have admire the creativity of attorneys. In Butler v. The Lubrizol Corp. (Ohio Ct. App. 3/31/15) [pdf], the plaintiff argued that direct evidence of race discrimination existed because, when confronted with a complaint of discrimination, the plaintiff’s supervisor did not deny it. The appellate court, in affirming the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims, disagreed:

Specifically, appellant states the trial court erred by declining “to hold that a direct evidence method of proof can be made in a discrimination case based on an ‘admission by omission’….” His argument is that although Decker never admitted to making decisions based on race, he also never denied it, and that the lack of a denial can be used as direct evidence that the accusations are in fact true….

The trial court stated that appellant’s evidence of Decker’s silence “would require the finder of fact to infer solely from Decker’s failure to directly address the accusation of race discrimination that the accusation is true.” … We agree….

Discrimination cases are laced with emotion. The plaintiff, in essence, is accusing the employer and its management of bigotry of one kind or another. When confronted with this accusation, it’s OK for a manager or supervisor to show some humanity by denying it, vehemently. Rest assured, however, that silence in the face of these allegations should not hang the employer with the noose of direct evidence of discrimination.

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


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