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‘Feeling’ bias in NASCAR? Court says ‘no go’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

When employees carry a chip on their shoulders, they may see dis­crimination in acts that are simply nor­mal workplace behavior. For­tu­nately, courts won’t allow dis­crimi­nation cases to go to trial if they’re based on nothing more than vague “feelings.”

Recent case: Jeffrey Thompson, who is black, worked as a quality control manager for Red Bull Racing, a NASCAR team. About a year into his employment, his bosses began complaining about his performance and the overall quality of the parts being produced by employees under Thompson’s management.

Thompson was demoted to quality technician, although he continued to receive the same salary. Then Thomp­son enrolled in college.

Over the next few months, he began missing work as he left early to attend classes or do homework. Red Bull Rac­­ing told Thompson his attendance was unacceptable and that he had to treat his job as his primary responsibility.

That spurred him to send a long note to HR complaining that he was being discriminated against. He included allegations that his super­visors had a “plantation” mentality that required blacks to “put the master and the plantation above all else.” He also attributed the team’s attitude toward his college work as racially motivated and an effort to keep blacks from getting an education.

He was fired shortly after for poor performance and attendance problems. Thompson sued, claiming racial discrimination and that he had been fired for complaining.

The court tossed out his case. It noted that while the team viewed its work as more important than Thompson’s efforts to improve himself, there was no evidence that its views were based on race. (Thompson v. Red Bull Racing, No. 1:10-CV-135, WD NC, 2011)

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