Judges see a lot. It’s usually pretty easy for them to figure out when an employer is trying to use “the lousy economy” as a pretext to discriminate against an employee.
But judges are also good at recognizing when discrimination hasn’t been a factor in an employment decision, especially if the employer can prove that legitimate business needs drove the decision-making.
Recent case: Wilbert Francis, a black man from the Virgin Islands, began working for a grocery store chain as a bagger, rising through the ranks to become assistant general manager for his region.
Then the chain started losing money and needed to consolidate. Because Francis was the least senior of two assistant general managers, he got the ax.
Shortly after, the chain hired a new manager with a different title, and paid him $20,000 more per year than Francis had earned. His job included many marketing duties and he was supposed to redesign store layouts and marketing efforts in addition to managing stores in the region.
Francis sued, alleging he had been terminated because of his race and national origin, replaced by a white man who was paid more.
The court disagreed. It said the chain proved it was facing financial trouble; it was in bankruptcy. Second, the new hire was consistent with the chain’s stated goal of raising profits by modernizing stores and renewing marketing—skills that Francis did not have and which had not been part of his job.
The case was dismissed. (Francis v. Pueblo, No. 07-1885, 3rd Cir., 2010)