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Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.

| July 10, 2017


QUESTION: I recently dismissed one of my employees, a white man, after he received numerous write-ups from his supervisor, a black woman. The guy challenged his discharge and is now suing the firm for discrimination, claiming his supervisor was prejudiced against him because of his race and sex. Some of the other men in the department say the supervisor is friendlier to women than men, and more sociable with blacks than whites. I was informed of this, but I discharged the worker based on the company policy – which requires discharge after five write-ups – and the statements in the supervisor’s write-ups, which indicated the fired worker was not competent at his job. After the fact, I was told by other workers that the supervisor was exceptionally hard on the worker. If my supervisor was prejudiced, and wrote up the worker unfairly, can the firm be held responsible for her actions? And can a white male sue for discrimination in the first place?

ANSWER: Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, discrimination in employment on the basis of race or sex is prohibited. While the purpose of the Act, originally, was to protect minorities and women from discrimination, the law’s protections also apply to white workers, and to men. At the early stage of litigation, a plaintiff may raise a “genuine issue of material fact,” that is, enough to take a case to trial, with evidence of “the mere fact that an adverse employment decision was made by a member of a racial minority.” Arendale v. City of Memphis, 519 F.3d 587, 603 (CA 6, 2008). On the facts as you describe them, the race of the supervisor, who did not actually make the decision to discharge the worker, is what matters – without her actions, there would have been no decision to discharge.

It appears that the fired worker is proceeding under a “cat’s paw” theory, under which an employer is liable for the discriminatory actions of the supervisor, if the supervisor’s actions cause the formal decision maker (you) to discharge or discipline the employee and if the supervisor intended the employee to be discharged or disciplined. Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 131 S.Ct. 1186 (2011). You do not indicate your race or gender, but it seems, in the context of the facts you presented, that your race and gender might not matter. The race and gender of the supervisor is likely to be imputed to the decision maker.

The question of whether the supervisor’s reports were motivated by an “improper animus,” (discrimination, prejudice against men, etc.) is an essential element of the claim. If the worker presents some evidence to show that he was treated unfairly, and that other similarly situated workers were not written up for similar conduct, he may have enough to present a question of fact — even if the supervisor responds that the write-ups were fair and unbiased – and pursue his case. Without knowing all the facts, we cannot say whether the discharged worker has a strong case, or a weak, case. But if he has already filed a claim against you, you should treat the claim seriously. If you have not already hired an attorney to file an Answer to the former worker’s claim, you should do so as soon as possible

The lawyers at GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC are experienced attorneys and are happy to answer your questions. Give us a call for a free initial telephone consultation about your legal needs. For consideration of your questions in our web column, please submit your inquiry on the “Contact Us” page of our website at

Information provided on “Ask the Lawyer” is current as of the date of publication. Laws and their interpretation are subject to change. The material provided through “Ask the Lawyer” is informational only; it should not be considered legal advice. Submitting a question to “Ask the Lawyer” does not create an attorney-client relationship between the person submitting the question and GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC. To view previous columns, please visit our website.

GWINN TAURIAINEN PLLC, is a Troy based law firm representing clients from Warren, Sterling Heights, Ferndale, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Oakland and Wayne Counties and all of Southeast Michigan

By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
901 Wilshire Drive, Suite 550
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 247-3300
(248) 247-3310 facsimile

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