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Media Alerts - Laster v. City of Kalamazoo -- Sixth Circuit
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June 5, 2014
  Laster v. City of Kalamazoo -- Sixth Circuit
Headline: The Sixth Circuit highlights the distinction between the "materially adverse action" element of a Title VII retaliation claim and the "adverse employment action" element of a Title VII race-discrimination claim.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Employment Law; Title VII (Race Discrimination), Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act

Issue Presented: Did the district court improperly dismiss plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim by requiring plaintiff to prove that he suffered an "adverse employment action" as part of his prima facie case?

Brief Summary: The plaintiff claimed that after he had filed two complaints with the EEOC, his employer retaliated against him in discriminatory ways, ultimately forcing him to resign. Plaintiff sued, claiming race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII and the First Amendment. The Title VII race-discrimination and First Amendment claims were dismissed, but the Sixth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. The court contrasted the application of the McDonnell-Douglas test to retaliation claims with its application to Title VII race-discrimination claims. A retaliation claim requires a less-onerous standard of "materially adverse action" than a race-discrimination claim, which requires proof of an "adverse employment action." Applying this standard, the court found that the plaintiff could establish a prima facie case of Title VII retaliation even though he could not succeed in his claim for Title VII race discrimination or in his First Amendment claim.

Significance: Even though a plaintiff has failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination under Title VII, the plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of Title VII retaliation because the elements for these claims are different.

Extended Summary: Plaintiff, an African-American public-safety officer, filed two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints alleging race discrimination and failure to obtain relief through his employer's internal grievance system. Plaintiff alleged that, following these complaints, he was subjected to retaliatory actions that forced him to resign. Plaintiff sued, claiming Title VII race discrimination and retaliation, and a violation of his First Amendment rights.

The Title VII race-discrimination and First Amendment claims were dismissed in both the district court and the Sixth Circuit. But the Sixth Circuit held that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim. Because the plaintiff sought to establish his Title VII retaliation claim through circumstantial evidence, the court applied the Supreme Court's McDonnell-Douglas burden-shifting analysis. The court noted that it applies McDonnell-Douglas differently to Title VII race-discrimination claims than to retaliation claims. For a discrimination claim, a plaintiff's prima facie case requires proof of an "adverse employment action," which is defined as a "materially adverse change in the terms or conditions" of employment. For a retaliation claim, however, the plaintiff need only show a "materially adverse action," which means that the employer's action might have "dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination."

In light of this distinction, the court found that plaintiff's claim that he faced heightened scrutiny, received frequent reprimands for breaking selectively enforced policies, and was disciplined more harshly than similarly situated peers might well have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Thus, the evidence could establish a prima facie case of Title VII retaliation even though it could not support his claim for Title VII race discrimination or his First Amendment claim.

Panel: Batchelder, Chief Judge; Siler and Clay, Circuit Judges.

Link to Full Opinion: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/op...14a0048p-06.pdf


Date of Issued Opinion: March 13, 2014

Docket Number: 13-1640

Decided: Affirmed as to dismissal of Title VII race-discrimination claim; reversed as to dismissal of Title VII retaliation claim and remanded for further proceedings.

Counsel: ON BRIEF: Richard O. Cherry, KALAMAZOO CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Kalamazoo, Michigan, for Appellee. Mark Laster, Kalamazoo, Michigan, pro se.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Clay; separate concurring opinion by Circuit Judge Batchelder.

Case Alert Author: Theodora Eisenhut

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Barbara Kalinowski

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 06/05/2014 01:11 PM     6th Circuit  

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