Recently, in Bagwe v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s federal employment discrimination lawsuit alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other laws. Specifically, Ms. Bagwe alleged discrimination in employment on the basis of race and national origin. Bagwe was born in India and is of Indian descent. Bagwe alleged that her employer had paid her a comparatively low salary because of her race and national origin. She also alleged that she was terminated for retaliatory and racially discriminatory reasons after she made discrimination complaints.
In response, Sedgwick argued that Bagwe was terminated for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons because she demonstrated poor leadership skills. The burden of proof then shifted to Bagwe to establish that such rationale was "unworthy of belief.” Unfortunately for the plaintiff, she could not prove her case. In fact, the well-documented evidence showed that upper management received complaints about plaintiff's inability to work with others, and that plaintiff had been placed on performance improvement plan because of such complaints. Fact that plaintiff's job performance had no financial impact on defendant, or that some co-workers got along with plaintiff did not require a different result.
Bagwe also failed to establish a viable unequal pay claim, where she could only identify purported comparative co-workers who had similar job titles, without establishing whether these individuals had comparable experience or qualifications. Plaintiff further failed to establish any actionable retaliation claim, where: (1) plaintiff's placement on performance improvement plan, by itself, did not constitute material adverse act; and (2) record showed that plaintiff's termination was based on plaintiff's poor leadership skills.
This decision illustrates once again why employers must document employee performance deficiencies with specific facts in support, as well as take appropriate and consistent steps to address employee performance problems.