- An African-American doctor can proceed with some of her race and gender bias claims after she was fired from her position, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded (Perry v. The Schumacher Group of Louisiana, No. 18-13698 (11th Cir. April 7, 2020)).
- The doctor, Pamela Perry, was by all accounts "exceptionally well-qualified," according to the court. She believed that some of the nurses in the emergency department undermined her authority and acted unprofessionally toward her due to her race. A few days after she raised her bias concerns, she was asked to leave her position, she alleged.
- The 11th Circuit concluded that the district court erred in deciding that Perry was an independent contractor not protected by Title VII because this fact was in dispute. The lower court also should have considered whether the employer's failure to investigate Perry's claims was evidence of discriminatory treatment, the circuit court said. Accordingly, the 11th Circuit revived parts of her claims.
Employers must be careful when an adverse employment action, such as a dismissal, closely follows protected activity — including an employee bringing a bias complaint. Absent a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the action, close timing can create an inference of retaliation. In this case, Perry was allegedly asked to leave "just a few days" after raising her race bias concerns, according to court documents.
Additionally, it's important to remember that experts suggest all complaints be promptly and thoroughly investigated. An employer's failure to investigate a discrimination claim could itself serve as evidence of discrimination, the 11th Circuit noted in this case.
Employers can avoid potential liability by having comprehensive anti-bias and anti-harassment policies in place, making sure that all employees are aware of the policies, and training managers to apply those policies in a consistent and fair way. Working to nurture an inclusive, respectful respectful culture that is intolerant of bias and harassment is also an important step toward reducing bias allegations.