Supervisor Engages in Racial Discrimination Against Employee

    Employment Expert WitnessThis case involves an employee of a program that helped welfare recipients return to the workforce. The employee was African American and her supervisor was also an African American woman. The company had a casual dress code for days when students were not attending classes. The employee’s supervisor regularly dressed in Afrocentric attire and wore her hair wrapped in an African hair dress. The employee had short, curly blond hair, which had been dyed from a natural color of brown to blond. The employee usually wore business dress to work. The supervisor made various statements about the employee including that she thought the employee was a “want to be” meaning that she thought the employee had dyed her hair blond because she wanted to be Caucasian. The supervisor also stated to the employee that she thought the employee should stop wearing business attire and should dress in Afrocentric attire like she did. One day, the employee released her students prior to the scheduled release time. All of the other employees also released their students early that day. There had been several incidents where the supervisor had deliberately excluded the employee from staff meetings. The supervisor sent a letter to the employee giving her notice that her actions constituted grounds for termination of the employee’s retention by the company. The supervisor fired the employee a few days later. The employee sued the company alleging that her firing was motivated by a discriminatory intent and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    Question(s) For Expert Witness

    • Can an African American supervisor’s comments about an African American employee’s hair and style of dress prior to the employee’s being fired be held to show a discriminatory intent for the employee’s firing?

    Expert Witness Response

    To bring an employment discrimination claim involving a job termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employee must show that their employer terminated them because of their race. To bring this type of claim against an employer after a firing, an employee must show: (1) that they are a member of a protected class; (2) that they were qualified for the job; (3) that they suffered an adverse employment action; and (4) the adverse action occurred under circumstances that give an inference of discrimination. Cases like this one, which involve an employee and a supervisor of the same race, are commonly referred to as “color-based” discrimination cases. It has been widely held that a supervisor who is the same race of an employee may commit racial discrimination in violation of Title VII if they treat the employee differently because of the employee’s race. In this case, the employee can probably bring a suit for racial discrimination against the company because her supervisor fired her and there was a great deal of racially-tainted animosity from the supervisor toward the employee. The comments that the supervisor made about the employee’s “wanting to be Caucasian” and the comment that the employee should wear Afrocentric dress support an inference of discrimination on the supervisor’s part. Since the supervisor’s decision to fire the employee was probably based on racial stereotyping and there is little proof that the supervisor had a non-discriminatory reason for the firing, the termination probably violated Title VII.

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