11th Circuit opens door for wide discretion when trial courts set remedies in bias cases

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

In a decision that could encourage trial courts to aggressively fix discrimination, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s wide-ranging remedy for a proven case of discrimination.

Recent case: Geneva Brown, who is black, worked for the Alabama Department of Transportation as a civil engineer. She was involved in class-action lawsuit against her employer that alleged the state government had engaged in large-scale discrimination against black applicants and employees in favor of whites.

She also filed her own lawsuit, alleging she had been wrongly denied many promotions over the years based on her race and in retaliation for participating in the other lawsuit.

A jury agreed with her.

The trial court then ordered the state to promote her into the next available spot near her home. The state appealed, arguing that the court didn’t have the power to tell it where Brown should work—just that she should get the next available opening. Presumably, that might mean an offer somewhere far from her home.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would have none of that. It said the trial court had wide discretion to come up with a fix for discrimination that was fair to the employee. Letting her get the first available job in her hometown was reasonable, concluded the court. (Brown v. Alabama Department of Transportation, No. 08-14371, 11th Cir., 2010)

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