December 17, 2010

Discrimination complaints and discipline

Discrimination complaints and discipline
Scroggins v Univ. of Minnesota, 8th Cir., 221 F.3d 1042

An employee files a discrimination complaint pursuant to Title VII against his or her employer. A short time later the employee is brought up on disciplinary charges, found guilty, and terminated. Is the employer guilty of retaliation against the employee in violation of Title VII? Stated another way, does the fact that an individual has filed a discrimination complaint mean that he or she may not be disciplined until the discrimination complaint is resolved?

In the Scroggins case, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Eight Circuit, decided that the fact that James Scroggins, an African-American, was terminated shortly after he filed a human rights complaint against the University of Minnesota did not mean that the University automatically violated the anti-retaliation provision in Title VII.

Scroggins was employed by the University as a custodian. He was counseled and disciplined on a number of occasions. Ultimately he was fired after being found guilty of sleeping after his break time had ended. This disciplinary action occurred just two weeks after Scroggins had filed his Title VII discrimination complaint against the University.

The Circuit Court characterized the fact that Scroggins was fired just two weeks after filing a discrimination charge as mere coincidence, rejecting his allegation that the disciplinary action against him was racially motivated and that his dismissal retaliatory. According to the court, the University had demonstrated that it had a valid, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing Scroggins.

Scroggins, on the other hand, said the court, did not offer any proof that the reasons given by the University for terminating him were pretextual.

Citing Kiel v Select Artificials, 169 F.3d 1131, the court pointed out that more than a showing that the termination occurred shortly after the individual had engaged in protected conduct, i.e., filing discrimination compliant with EEOC, is required. The individual must show that there is a factual issue of retaliation if his or her cause of action is to survive a motion for summary dismissal.

The court’s rationale: anti-discrimination statutes do not serve to insulate an employee from being disciplined for violating the employer’s work rules or disrupting the workplace.

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