News flash: Some employees are unduly sensitive. They see every gesture or look as proof that their co-workers or supervisors dislike them because of some protected characteristic.
Fortunately, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected facial gestures and expressions as direct evidence of discrimination.
Recent case: When Brian Grigsby discovered he was Native American, he embraced his Sioux, Cherokee and Apache roots. He bombarded his co-workers and supervisors with information about Native American tribes and history.
Then he applied for several promotions. During one discussion with a supervisor about one of the promotions, he again mentioned his Native American heritage. Grigsby later claimed that the supervisor got a disdainful look on her face.
When Grigsby failed to win any promotions, he sued, alleging the real reason was discrimination against Native Americans.
But his only evidence hinged on the supervisor’s facial expression. That wasn’t enough for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Unfriendly glances or other subtle signs of distaste simply don’t prove discrimination. (Grigsby v. LaHood, No. 10-1072, 7th Cir., 2010)
Final note: No doubt, the court was reluctant to infer motivation from something as ambiguous as a facial gesture, and didn’t want to encourage lawsuits over subjective responses to behavior that can’t be measured.
It’s always best for a boss to maintain a poker face, but employers don’t have to worry that raised eyebrows or a sour puss will land them in court. Employees must have thicker skins than that.