Friday, March 18, 2016

Reverse Discrimination Lawsuit Tossed Out of Court

In a recent decision in Formella v. Brennan, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer in a reverse discrimination employment lawsuit filed in federal court. Plaintiff, Robert Formella, sued his employer, the United States Post Office (“USPS”) for employment discrimination based on race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Formella, a white male, worked as a postal police officer for USPS for 31 years.  In April 2011, Formella applied for a supervisor position which offered substantially more overtime compensation.  Ultimately, Formella competed for the position against two other officers, Officer Fields and Officer Brown, both of whom are African-American and over 40 years old.  Inspector in Charge, Thomas Brady, who is white, interviewed the three applicants, asking them all the same questions and scoring their responses on a numerical scale.  

Based on the interviews, Brady hired Officer Fields.  According to Brady, he did not choose Formella because he had the impression that Formella felt entitled to the position, as throughout  the interview, Formella repeated the phrase “RHIP,” which stands for “rank has its privileges.”  Brady also indicated that Formella was not prepared for the interview, did not answer the questions completely or correctly, and only wanted the position due to the potential increase in pay.  Brady felt Officer Fields presented better in the interview, had complete and correct answers to questions, and was well-prepared.

After finding out he was not selected for the position, Formella filed two informal EEO complaints alleging race discrimination.  On January 13, 2013, USPS issued its Final Agency Decision denying Formella’s claim. Formella then filed suit in federal court. The District Court granted summary judgment for USPS and plaintiff filed an appeal.  

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the employer on plaintiff’s reverse discrimination claim.  The Court found that Formella failed to establish a prima facie case because he did not produce any facts to show that Brady (who is white) had a reason to discriminate against whites or anything “fishy” about the facts of his case.  

In addition, plaintiff failed to sufficiently identify similarly situated employees who are non-white for comparison purposes. The Court dismissed plaintiff’s argument that Brady “rigged” the scoring of the interviews to give Officer Fields a higher score. Other than his own unsupported testimony, Formella presented no evidence to support this argument. 

The Court also noted that even if plaintiff had made a prima facie case, USPS gave non-discriminatory reasons for its actions, and plaintiff failed to show Brady’s reasons for hiring Officer Fields over him were pretextual.  Better performance in an interview is unquestionably a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis to hire one candidate over another. Based on the well-documented evidence that Officer Fields performed better in the interview than Formella, summary judgment was upheld for the employer.