John B. Johnson doesn't say he was discriminated against because he is an African-American but because he advocated for minorities in his role as vice president of human resources at the University of Cincinnati.
Johnson had voiced concern about what he perceived as the university's lack of commitment to its affirmative action policies. Soon after, he was fired. He sued under Title VII.
Although a district court dismissed his claim, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Johnson. The court said he didn't need to show the university discriminated against him because he was a member of a protected group. He needed to show only that he was discriminated against because of his association with the group. (Johnson v. University of Cincinnati, No. 98-3016, 6th Cir., 2000)
Advice: Before terminating any employee, regardless of race or sex, consider the possibility that the employee could sue you for association-related discrimination.
This case proves that workers don't need to show that they're part of a protected class to sue under Title VII. They can take the "side door" into the courthouse by claiming protection based on association with that group.
Perhaps the most common association claim under Title VII involves majority employees who claim discrimination based on their biracial marriage. Other cases have involved interracial dating and having biracial children.
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