Workplace Culture

Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Humana Reinstated

By Judy Greenwald

Jul. 6, 2012

A federal appeals court has reinstated a putative class action racial discrimination case brought by a former Humana Inc. employee in a technical legal ruling.

According to The July 2 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Kathryn Keys vs. Humana Inc., Keys, a former director at the Louisville, Kentucky-based health insurer who is African-American, stated that after two reorganizations, her role and responsibilities had been diminished unlike those of Caucasian directors.

Humana terminated Keys’ employment in June 2008, citing a 2006 negative performance assessment and ignoring a 2007 favorable performance appraisal, according to the ruling. Keys filed a lawsuit against Humana in October 2009.

A district court dismissed the suit in July 2010, concluding that Keys had failed to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination under the McDonnell Douglas framework.

This framework, which stems from a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McDonnell Douglas Corp. vs. Green, states that to establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must establish that she is member of a protected class; that she was qualified for her job; that she suffered an adverse employment decision; and that she was replaced by a person from outside the protected class, or treated differently than similarly situated nonprotected employees.

The district court found Keys had failed to meet the last qualification.

However, the appellate court said the district court had incorrectly applied the McDonnell Douglas framework in its ruling because it should be used as a standard to evaluate evidence, not merely to plead a case.

“The district court’s requiring that Keys’ complaint establish a prima facie cause under McDonnell Douglas and its progeny is contrary to Supreme Court and 6th Circuit precedent,” said a three-judge panel’s unanimous ruling.

Citing the Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling in Swierkiewicz vs. Sorema N.A., the appellate court said, “The Supreme Court unanimously held that the prima facie case under McDonnell Douglas is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading standard…As the court reasoned, ‘it is not appropriate to require a plaintiff to plead facts establishing a prima facie case because the McDonnell Douglas framework does not apply in every employment discrimination case.”

“Keys adequately alleged the components of her claim and of her class action case, both of which now may be defined further through the discovery process,” the court said, in remanding the case.

A Humana spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a related ruling, the 6th Circuit late last month upheld an award to an African-American custodian who accused a school district of racial discrimination and retaliation in connection with his demotion and transfer to another school in Clifford Litton vs. Talawanda School District.

Stay informed and connected. Get human resources news and HR features via Workforce Management’s Twitter feed or RSS feeds for mobile devices and news readers.

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email

Judy Greenwald writes for Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management.

What’s New at

blog workforce

Come see what we’re building in the world of predictive employee scheduling, superior labor insights and next-gen employee apps. We’re on a mission to automate workforce management for hourly employees and bring productivity, optimization and engagement to the frontline.

Book a call
See the software

Related Articles

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

Workplace productivity statistics and trends you need to know

Summary There was a 2.4% decrease in productivity in Q2 2022 – the largest decline since the U.S. Burea...

productivity, statistics, trends, workplace

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

5 lunch break statistics that shed light on American work culture

Summary Research shows how taking lunch breaks enhances employee engagement and productivity. Despite t...

lunch breaks, scheduling, statistics

workforce blog

Workplace Culture

6 Things Leadership can do to Prevent Nurse Burnout

Summary Nurse burnout is a serious issue in the healthcare business and has several negative consequenc...

burnout, Healthcare, hospitals, nurses