Hairston v. Royal Bldg. Prods. Inc.

Genuine issues of material fact remain in this employment discrimination case, in which the plaintiff claims that he lost his job due to racial animus. The employer claims that termination was a performance-based decision in a reduction in force following an acquisition.

Here, the plaintiff has presented direct evidence of racial discrimination, in the form of racial slurs allegedly used by other management-level employees about the plaintiff, who is black. One instance came immediately after the plaintiff’s termination, with the employee saying “we’re finally rid of” the plaintiff and referring to him with a racial slur.

While that employee didn’t personally make the termination decision, there was no sole decision-maker. Instead, the employee – who had at least some supervisory authority over the plaintiff – was one of a handful of people who provided input that resulted in the plaintiff’s negative performance evaluation, which led to his termination. A jury could infer that, when the employee gave his input about the plaintiff, he understood that the evaluation was for the purpose of reducing the workforce. These circumstances are sufficient to analyze the use of racial slurs as direct evidence of race discrimination. In the alternative, the slurs would allow a reasonable juror to conclude that the employer’s legitimate non-discriminatory explanation for the plaintiff’s termination was a pretext for race discrimination.

A reasonable juror could also find that the plaintiff’s termination was retaliation for reporting racial harassment. The plaintiff reported harassment to his supervisor, who suggested that the plaintiff respond by resigning and who recommended the plaintiff’s termination only two months later.

Finally, the plaintiff has offered sufficient evidence of a racially-hostile work environment that a jury should decide the employer’s liability for it. In two years of employment, the plaintiff received anonymous phone calls at work using racial slurs telling him to “leave here”; heard from other black employees that they experienced race-based animus from supervisors; was subjected to race-based jokes; was excluded from managerial meetings by white colleagues; and was denied company privileges that white managers received. Moreover, the plaintiff reported his concerns to his supervisors several times, yet the record contains no evidence that the company investigated allegations of racial animus or harassment during the plaintiff’s employment.

Motion for summary judgment denied.

Hairston v. Royal Bldg. Prods. Inc., No. 1:18cv3, Apr. 12, 2019. WDVA at Abingdon (Jones).

Categories: Opinions, U.S. District Court - Western District of Virginia

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