As an Atlanta, Georgia employment litigation attorney and Atlanta non-compete lawyer, I am always looking for new cases discussing employment law and litigation. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals which governs federal appeals cases in states such as Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma and Wyoming recently demonstrated the common burdens of proof needed to establish a retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and provides a good discussion piece. If you or your Atlanta small business are in need of an Atlanta employment defense attorney, or Atlanta small business attorney contact a Georgia attorney to assist you. The Golden Law Firm, LLC can provide you with legal advice regarding your business needs, including defense of employment related matters.
In Barlow v. C.R. England, Inc., Plaintiff Willie Barlow filed suit alleging that Defendant C.R. England, Inc. ("C.R. England") wrongfully discharged him on the basis of his African-American race and in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. He also claimed that he was not paid overtime compensation pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Barlow had previously worked for C.R. England as both a security guard and janitor in Colorado. He provided the janitorial services as an independent contractor. During his employment in 2007, Barlow was injured on the job when a gate securing the entryway to the facility fell on his head. He thereafter filed for workers' compensation benefits. Barlow alleged that ultimately, the Company became skeptical of his claim believing he was a "malingerer."
In late 2007, the Company terminated Barlow's janitorial services in part because the Company had caught him performing those services when he was on the clock as a security guard and in part because of concerns over his injury. Ultimately, Barlow was fired from his security job position after two trailer doors were stolen from the Company's premises during Barlow's shift. Barlow filed suit alleging that his termination was on the basis of his race and in retaliation for having filed a workers' compensation claim. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado subsequently granted summary judgment to C.R. England and dismissed the claims. Barlow appealed the dismissal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit agreed with much of the reasoning of the District Court. Regarding Barlow's race discrimination claim, the Court agreed that Barlow had not stated a prima facie case of discrimination. Without direct proof of discrimination, a plaintiff in a race discrimination case must reply on the well-known three-part burden-shifting framework first set forth in the Supreme Court's McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green decision, the first step of which is for the plaintiff to articulate a prima facie case. The "critical prima facie inquiry in all cases is whether the plaintiff has demonstrated that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances which give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. " The Court of Appeals agreed that Barlow failed to demonstrate this causal link. As such, Plaintiff's discrimination claim could go no further and dismissal was appropriate.
However, as solace to Barlow, the Court did find that there was sufficient evidence under Colorado law to allow Barlow's workers' compensation retaliation claim to go to a jury. Barlow presented evidence that the Company questioned the legitimacy of his injuries, and expressed frustration over his status. Thus, there was sufficient evidence to reverse the trial court on the workers' compensation retaliation issue.
This case is a good reminder that federal district courts strictly follow the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework described above. If a plaintiff cannot meet a prima facie case of discrimination, the claim stops there. All too often, plaintiffs take for granted that they can establish a prima facie claim of discrimination and seek to move straight to the pretext stage. But establishing pretext cannot happen if a prima facie case of discrimination is not established first.
If you have questions regarding protecting your Company from employment law claims, contact an Atlanta business litigation attorney. Atlanta Employment litigation lawyer, or Atlanta Small Business Attorney at the Golden Law Firm, LLC. Founding member, Peter Golden has significant experience representing parties in employment and business matters. At The Golden Law Firm, LLC we also handle Atlanta non-compete agreement attorney matters. Contact an Atlanta business litigation attorney today by calling us at 678-710-8244 or through our website at www.golden-firm.com. We are located in the heart of the Vinings neighborhood of Atlanta, one block from I-285 and easily accessible from throughout metro Atlanta.