Tough new supervisor? That doesn’t prove bias

Sometimes, new bosses crack the whip harder than the previous supervisor did—and hand out harsher performance appraisals, too. But absent specific evidence to the contrary, new and more rigorous standards don’t usually signal that the new boss is motivated by discriminatory intent.

Recent case: Terri, a black woman, began working for the city of Long Beach as an emergency dispatcher trainee. Training was scheduled to last up to a year. It included periodic evaluations leading to a live, solo assignment in which employees were field tested on their skills. At first, Terri scored well on her evaluations.

Then, a new supervisor took over. He scored Terri and other trainees lower than before. Terri quit right before her solo trial run, citing the toll her daily commute was taking on family life.

She sued for discrimination, alleging the new supervisor was motivated by racial animus when he began lowering her performance scores. But she couldn’t point to specific examples that made her believe race was an issue.

The court tossed out Terri’s case, noting that she had no evidence that race was a factor, other than that she was of a different race than the supervisor. That wasn’t enough. Plus, before she quit, she never raised any concerns about race discrimination. (Atwell v. City of Long Beach, Court of Appeals of California 2018)