The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide on an important race-discrimination employment issue: whether a fired employee can win a race-discrimination lawsuit when the manager who pulled the trigger on the termination didn’t know the employee’s race.
A lower court, in agreeing with the employee, has ruled that even if the ultimate decision-maker (say an HR manager at corporate headquarters) doesn’t know the race, age or sex of the employee in question, the fired employee can still file a discrimination claim if he or she can prove that a lower-level manager’s discriminatory action tainted that final decision. (EEOC v. BCI Coca-Cola Bottling, 10th Cir.)
The EEOC has pushed a theory lately that a sole decision-maker who doesn’t know an employee’s race can still be responsible for discrimination on the principle that the employer is liable for the acts of biased subordinates.
Advice: Regardless how this case plays out, it’s important to remind supervisors that it’s their job to make sure discrimination doesn’t taint any hiring, firing, promotion or pay decisions.