The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed summary judgment on a race discrimination claim. Lee v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., No. 08-30444 (5th Cir. June 30, 2009), available at http://www.ca5.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/08/08-30444-CV0.wpd.pdf. Marcus Lee, an African-American train engineer, sued his former employer for race-based employment discrimination and retaliatory discharge after he was fired for failing to obey a stop signal. The district court granted summary judgment on all claims. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment on the retaliation claims but reversed summary judgment on the discrimination claim.
In a race discrimination matter, a plaintiff must demonstrate, among other factors, that he was treated less favorably because of his race. The Court noted that Lee had to identify a co-worker of another race and show that the employer disciplined the two differently under nearly identical circumstances. Here, the Court focused upon a white engineer who was fired for a similar infraction but who was later reinstated. Because this engineer and Lee held identical positions, compiled a similar number of serious moving violations over a similar time period, and were fired and/or reinstated by the same decision-maker, the Court found that Lee had identified a comparator and that he could proceed to trial.
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