Friday, October 3, 2014

Federal Court Finds for Employer in Reverse Employment Discrimination Case

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Garofalo v. Village of Hazel Crest affirmed summary judgment in favor of the employer in a Title VII  employment discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court by two white police sergeants passed over for promotion to Deputy Chief of Police. Plaintiffs, Garofalo and Peers, were among four front-runners considered for a Deputy Police Chief position, which ultimately went to a black officer who was not one of the four initially-discussed candidates.  Plaintiffs alleged that the Village and its officials discriminated against them by promoting a black officer they contended was unqualified for the position.  Plaintiffs sued the Village under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. Sections 1981, 1983, as well as under Illinois state law.

Plaintiffs alleged that the Village and its officials discriminated against them by failing to promote them based on their race. Plaintiffs also alleged that management created a hostile work environment that fostered racial tension. The Court held that the employees failed to demonstrate sufficient evidence of racial discrimination to survive summary judgment in favor of the employer. Importantly, plaintiffs’ reliance on purported statements by  the Chief of Police that the Mayor would like to see more “racial diversity” in the police department, and that none of the plaintiffs would ever be promoted because they were the “wrong color”  were insufficient in themselves to establish a claim of reverse discrimination. The Court also found that plaintiffs failed to present specific facts to support their claim of racial tension in the police department.

The fundamental question before the Court was whether a reasonable jury could find that prohibited discrimination caused the two officers not to be promoted.  The Court  ultimately held that plaintiffs failed to present sufficient evidence that they had a reasonable chance of promotion. The Village was entitled to summary judgment because it “articulated non-discriminatory reasons” for the decisions not to promote Garofalo and Peers, and because plaintiffs could not prove the employer’s stated reasons were pretext.  Specifically, the Village offered evidence that Garofalo was not selected for the promotion because management believed Garofalo suffered from a lack of leadership and deficiencies in his decision-making abilities.  As to Peers, the Village offered evidence that Peers was known by the other officers to have a volatile and unstable personality, and that Peers did not have the respect of the men he supervised.  Management also believed that Peers did not want the promotion.  

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s finding in favor of the employer on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit held that summary judgment was proper on plaintiffs’ claims of racial discrimination because they did not present sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find that they were the object of unlawful discrimination.  Moreover, the plaintiffs did not present evidence to counter the employer’s explanation for why they were not promoted to permit a finding of pretext. Accordingly, summary judgment for the employer was upheld on appeal.