It goes without saying that employers shouldn’t discriminate based on race, age, sex or other protected characteristics. But favoring people based on those protected characteristics can lead to another problem—reverse discrimination.
In fact, actively seeking out some employees in order to encourage diversity can be used as proof that an employer may be discriminating against those, such as white males, belonging to unprotected classifications.
Recent case: Robert Lasowski, who is white and of Polish ancestry, worked for a Walgreens drug store. Walgreens fired Lasowski after an off-duty employee asked him to open the pharmacy when there was no pharmacist present so the employee could purchase a can of infant formula. The formula was kept locked up because it was a frequent target of shoplifters. Company rules forbid employees from opening the pharmacy without a pharmacist present.
Lasowski sued, alleging he had been fired because he is white. The court noted that it is the rare employer that discriminates against employees who belong to the majority. It asked for proof that Walgreens did so.
That’s when Lasowski’s attorneys unearthed the drug store’s Equal Opportunity Group (EOG), a team whose aim was to monitor the representation of women, minorities, disabled individuals and veterans in the company workforce. The group creates annual affirmative action plans that track women and minority employees at various store locations, making sure the workforce is representative of the communities in which the stores are located. Managers, including those who fired Lasowski, all attended annual training sessions conducted by the EOG.
That was enough for the court to conclude that Walgreens might be the exceptional employer that discriminates against majority white males. It said the case could proceed.
Fortunately for Walgreens, it won because it could prove it had fired Lasowski for a legitimate reason and that it hadn’t been more lenient on others who broke the same rule. (Lasowski v. Walgreen Company, No. 05-C-46, ND IL, 2008)
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- Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act covers reverse discrimination, too