Organizations that have a diverseteam in place will find it easier to defeat discrimination claims.
The fact that your decision-makers come from a wide range of backgrounds helps temper any hint that you make discriminatory decisions.
Recent case: Jackie Jimoh, a 51-year-old black woman, has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and is a certified public accountant.
She was one of three employees hired by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (CMHP) in the months leading up to the expected retirement of the organization’s vice president of business and finance. Another hire was Lee Cochran, a 36-year-old white man with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in public policy with an emphasis on public housing. The final new employee was Fred Dodson, a 42-year-old black attorney.
When the VP stepped down, Dodson became chief operating officer and Cochran became chief financial officer. Both received pay raises. Jimoh did not, but became comptroller.
She filed an EEOC action, alleging failure to promote based on race, sex and age. She also alleged that she had been promised the CFO position back when she was hired.
When her job duties were further diminished and other employees “glared at her,” she quit and filed a lawsuit, adding retaliation and breach of contract to her claims.
The court dismissed her lawsuit. First, it pointed out that Jimoh, while qualified for the promotions, wasn’t necessarily the best qualified.
Both promoted co-workers had relevant and valuable advanced degrees, while she did not. Although advanced education wasn’t required, the court said that favoring those with more education was “rational and in no way probative of discriminatory intent.” Favoring the more highly educated was a legitimate business reason for passing over a black woman in favor of a black man and a white man.
The court then considered Jimoh’s argument that the entire organization was permeated by discrimination.
It quickly dismissed that notion, pointing out that “the exceptionally diverse composition of management personnel at CMHP belies the plaintiff’s claim that a pattern of discrimination existed.” At the time Jimoh quit, there were eight management employees. Seven of them were over the age of 40, five were black, and four were women—all characteristics that Jimoh shared.
Finally, the court considered her retaliation and contract claims.
Being glared at isn’t retaliation, the court said. And CMHP testified it cut Jimoh’s duties because the people who were promoted received greater responsibilities. The court called that a legitimate decision.
As for the breach-of-contract claim, under North Carolina law, even if Jimoh had an oral contract, the fact that she continued working after the organization changed the terms meant she gave up the right to challenge those changes. (Jimoh v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, No. 3:08-CV-495, WD NC, 2010)
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