Ruling Discrimination Law Applies Individually Within Protected Classes

By Staff Report

Aug. 15, 2011

Discrimination against one member of a minority group violates federal discrimination law no matter how well another member of the same minority may have been treated, says a federal appellate court decision, in overturning a lower court ruling.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “would have little force if an employer could defeat a claim of discrimination by treating a single member of the protected class in accordance with the law,” said the unanimous ruling of a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

According to the Aug. 8 decision in Jose Diaz, Ramon Peña and Alberto Robles v. Kraft Foods Global Inc., Diaz and Peña charged they were not hired by Northfield, Illinois-based Kraft after their jobs were outsourced because of a supervisor’s discrimination.

Diaz and Peña and a woman who settled her own lawsuit complained that they were sent by the supervisor outside to scrub parking lots, clean sewers and complete other disliked tasks “as often as possible” during the cold winter months, but the supervisor did not assign such jobs to non-Hispanic employees. However, at least one Hispanic employee also was not assigned to some unwanted tasks, according to the decision.

In addition, in 2005, while Robles was having a heart attack in 2005, the supervisor yelled, “Get the hell out of my office. Go die somewhere else,” said the court’s decision.

Diaz and Peña charged that the supervisor refused to let them apply for two positions before the outsourcing, thereby eliminating the possibility they would be hired. For two other positions, two Hispanic employees were selected, although Diaz and Peña claimed they were more qualified.

“Discrimination against one Hispanic employee violates the statute, no matter how well another Hispanic employee is treated,” the ruling continued.

“Suppose the district court’s view carried the day: a female employee suffering from discrimination on the basis of her sex would have to establish that her employer discriminated against all women in the workplace to assert a sex discrimination claim. That, sensibly, is not how Title VII operates.”

Diaz and Peña’s case was remanded. The court upheld the lower court’s ruling dismissing the case filed against Robles, who claimed he was paid less then he deserved because he was not promoted to a higher position.  

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email


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