- Upholding summary judgment for an employer, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the plaintiff failed to show that the company's legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for not promoting her — her poor communication skills — was pretext for discrimination (Coleman v. Schneider Electric USA, Inc., No. 18-1265 (4th Cir., Jan. 9, 2019)).
- One former manager had informed the employee that her communication skills needed improvement; the employee's current manager had a similar opinion. Another former supervisor said the employee, Samantha Coleman, performed her training tasks well enough, but the court said the hiring manager "was entitled to form a different opinion of Coleman's capabilities."
- Because the employee did not prove pretext by showing that she was better qualified, or by providing circumstantial evidence that undermined the credibility of the employer's stated reasons for the promotion denial, the 4th Circuit upheld a district court's ruling in favor of the employer.
Coleman is unpublished, meaning it cannot be cited as binding legal precedent, but it still contains some valuable insights for employers, especially as the decision illustrates the value of good documentation.
Documentation can be important not just for disciplinary actions and the reasons behind them, but also for general processes and business decisions. It was helpful, for example, for the employer in Coleman to be able to point to two managers who held less-than-stellar opinions of the plaintiff's communication skills when faced with evidence that another manager felt differently.
It's also worth noting that the employee in Coleman was issued an above-average performance review after filing her initial EEOC charge, and a performance improvement plan was drafted to improve the employee's promotion opportunities and remedy specific shortcomings identified by the company. When used incorrectly, a performance improvement plan can bolster an employee's retaliation claim. Here, however, the evidence showed that the plan was designed to help the employee succeed at the company rather than punish her for filing an EEOC charge.