- A jury could conclude that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US) engaged in race discrimination when it fired Kenya Spratt, an African-American man, for falsifying potential contractor bids when it did not fire a white man who committed similar policy violations, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Spratt v. FCA US LLC No. 19-1420 (6th Cir. May 13, 2020)).
- FCA US employed Spratt as a senior construction buyer, a role that made him responsible for collecting bids for large-scale construction projects and sourcing those projects. At the outset of one project, Spratt changed some of the numbers on a contractor's initial bid summary sheet because he suspected someone at FCA US "was sharing inside information about the bidding process" with the contractor. The contractor would have had the lowest bid overall had Spratt left its numbers unchanged. FCA US discovered his conduct, investigated him and terminated him. Spratt does not deny he altered some of the numbers, but alleged that his behavior did not warrant termination, and that his race was "the real reason" for it.
- Spratt contended that FCA US "effectively promoted" his white predecessor after he engaged in similar conduct. A district court ruled that the behavior of Spratt's predecessor differed too much to allow for his claim of discrimination but the 6th Circuit disagreed, concluding that a juror could find that the predecessor's actions were more serious.
A plaintiff's ability to establish comparators can make or break a discrimination claim.
The 11th Circuit recently ruled a political science professor failed to make a prima facie case for race or gender discrimination because she had not "identified an adequate comparator outside her protected classes who was treated more favorably than she was." Similarly, the 3rd Circuit found the City of Philadelphia fired a code inspector due to poor performance, rather than race discrimination, in part because the comparators the plaintiff offered were not similarly situated.
But the 4th Circuit reversed a lower court's ruling for a waste company because it found the plaintiff's comparator — who was white and managed by the same supervisor and who committed more infractions than the plaintiff, who was black — to be an appropriate comparator. Likewise, the 3rd Circuit affirmed a jury's award to a General Nutrition Corp. manager who compared himself to the store's younger managers to establish age discrimination.
Spratt may remind HR professionals of the importance of even policy enforcement, coupled with documentation. Documentation will serve an employer best, of course, when it is completed thoroughly and without snark, vague feedback or other pitfalls, one expert previously warned. This also means rainmakers and executives can't be spared from punishment for discriminatory actions and other forms of misconduct.