The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed a summary judgment for an employer in a race discrimination case. Vaughn v. Woodforest Bank, No. 11-60102 (5th Cir. Dec. 21, 2011), available at http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/11/11-60102-CV0.wpd.pdf.
Although she received a favorable performance review, the plaintiff was fired for “unsatisfactory conduct” after the employer conducted a “climate survey” of the workplace. The plaintiff established a prima facie case, so the employer had to proffer a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing the plaintiff. The employer presented evidence that the plaintiff made inappropriate comments that created a perception of racial discrimination and a lack of confidentiality.
The plaintiff then offered evidence to rebut the employer’s proffered reason for the termination. This included evidence that the employer never expressed concern over the plaintiff’s conduct prior to the climate survey even though the employer was aware of each of the alleged occurrences well before then. The Court concluded that this rebuttal evidence cast doubt on the employer’s proffered reason for firing the plaintiff and undermined its credibility. Because a jury could draw inferences from this evidence and reasonably conclude that the employer intentionally exaggerated its concern over the plaintiff’s conduct, summary judgment was inappropriate.
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