Articles Posted in Race Discrimination

Race discrimination in the workplace is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Race discrimination claims, like other employment law claims, are subject to strict statute of limitations filing deadlines. Subject to certain very limited exceptions, the failure to file within the applicable deadline will forever bar a victim of employment discrimination from recovering damages – which can include financial loss, emotional distress, and punitives.

In Green v. Brennan, the United States Supreme Court decided when the filing period for a constructive discharge begins to run. There, the plaintiff, Marvin Green, worked for the Postal Service for 35 years. In 2008, he applied for a promotion and was passed over. Green alleged that he was denied the promotion because of his race and that he suffered retaliation thereafter. In 2011, two of Green’s supervisors accused him of delaying the mail; a criminal offense which prompted an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). During the investigation, the supervisors provided Green with a letter re-assigning him to off-duty status. Although the OIG ultimately concluded that no further investigation was required, the supervisors maintained to Green that “the OIG is all over this” and that the criminal charge “could be a life changer.”

Employment discrimination claims under Massachusetts law, pursuant to the Fair Employment Practices Act, have a better chance of making it to trial thanks to the clarification issued in Bulwer v. Mt Auburn. There, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court evaluated the summary judgment standard under Rule 56 and reiterated, as it first made clear in Blare v. Husky, that Massachusetts is a pretext-only jurisdiction when it comes to proving employment discrimination.  In particular, the SJC reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the case at summary judgment, thus allowing the employee’s claims for race and national origin discrimination to proceed to trial and be heard by a jury.

In doing so, the SJC refused to adopt the employer’s articulation of the plaintiff’s burden at summary judgment standard; namely, that an employee must present evidence that the employer’s reason for termination constituted a pretext for discrimination. Rather, consistent with long-standing precedent, the Court reminded litigants that a plaintiff bringing an employment discrimination claim “need only present evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that ‘the respondent’s facially proper reasons given for its action against him were not the real reasons for that action'” to survive summary judgment and advance to trial.

Overview: In Lammlin v. Seder Foods, the MCAD found in favor of the Complainant and awarded back pay and emotional distress damages. This is the MCAD’s first decision in 2016. This case included direct evidence of discriminatory bias, where the Respondent testified at public hearing that he sought a “salesperson who not only spoke Spanish, but who was culturally Latino.” As expected, the hearing officer rejected Respondent’s perceived “cultural affinity” defense and applied the mixed-motive analysis. In arriving at emotional distress damages, the hearing officer noted “the meager evidence proffered regarding his emotional distress, including the absence of testimony regarding its nature, severity and duration” and ultimately characterized its award as de minimis.

Decision Date: January 20, 2016