- An engineer was laid off during a reduction in force because of his lack of seniority, not his race or complaints about race bias, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (Gipson v. Dassault Flacon Jet Corp., No. 19-2475 (8th Cir., Dec. 22, 2020)).
- An engineer at Dassault Falcon Jet Corp., an aircraft manufacturer, alleged his employer denied him a promotion and later laid him off because of his race. Dassault said it terminated the employee because other engineers had more seniority.
- A district court granted summary judgment for Dassault. On appeal, the 8th Circuit agreed with the lower court's findings that the worker failed to show race was a factor in his dismissal because he had low seniority when compared to other manufacturing engineers. Further, a white manufacturing engineer was also laid off because of lack of seniority. The appeals court said Dassault was entitled to summary judgment on the engineer's clam of race discrimination related to his termination because the employer presented legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its actions — "a planned, company-wide reduction in force as well as objective parameters for the reduction in force."
Employers can't factor in characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex and national origin when making employment decisions, according to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidance. Employers have a strong legal defense against claims they've violated such boundaries when they can show a nondiscriminatory reason for taking an adverse employment action against someone who belongs to one or more protected classes.
The 5th Circuit ruled in 2019, for example, that a Mississippi deputy clerk was fired because of a budget shortfall, not bias. Lowe's defeated a worker's allegations of age and disability bias because it was able to show legitimate business reasons for an employee's transfer to a new store and investigation into his conduct.
Employers may want to note that statements by managers and supervisors can serve as evidence of discrimination if matters go to court. In Gipson, for example, the engineer said he was described as "big and intimidating" when he met with two managers over a promotion he sought and did not receive. The worker said the alleged statement was direct evidence of discrimination. The appeals court found, however, that the statement was "race neutral" and that the manager who made the statement — who spoke English as a second language — "immediately apologized" when told that statement was racially charged.