Courts don’t want to be in charge of running your business. Generally, if you can put forth a genuine, legal rationale reason for an action—such as terminating an employee for budgetary reasons—courts aren’t going to step in.
That’s especially true when a business is struggling.
Recent case: Joseph, who is black, is an attorney with a private law practice. He also worked full-time as a law school library reference desk librarian. He complained that he was paid less than white librarians. When his requested pay raise didn’t materialize, he asked to switch to a part-time schedule.
Joseph got his wish and was transferred to a part-time position, working Thursday evenings and all day Saturday. Then the law school was informed that there would be budget cuts and decided to reduce the library’s budget. The director reviewed the schedule and library usage and concluded that very few students used the reference desk during those hours. Joseph’s part-time position was eliminated in a cost reduction move.
Joseph sued, alleging race discrimination. He argued that two white librarians kept their jobs, and that the budget crisis wasn’t serious enough to warrant eliminating his position.
The court sided with the law school. First, it made clear that an employer doesn’t have to wait until its financial situation is dire to cut staff and save money. Courts aren’t going to second-guess cost reduction efforts.
Second, it dismissed Joseph’s argument that retaining the white librarians proved race discrimination. They had full-time jobs, while Joseph worked a very limited part-time schedule. That invalidated any comparison. The case was dismissed. (Plumbar v. South Texas College of Law, SD TX, 2017)
Final note: It is very difficult for workers who were laid off for economic reasons to argue that their termination was based on discrimination.