In Wethje v. CACI-ISS, Inc, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland recently ruled in favor of a white employee who brought a reverse race discrimination claim. In March 2017, her African American subordinate complained that the Plaintiff over-assigned work to her and made a racist remark to her. Soon after, the Plaintiff’s employer, CACI-IAA, received several race-based complaints aimed at the Plaintiff’s supervisor. In response, the employer’s Executive VP urged that the Plaintiff be terminated in order to send “a strong message that [CACI-IAA] will not tolerate discrimination.” He told HR to “find a way” to fire the Plaintiff prior to an investigation.
However, the HR department conducted an investigation and recommended that the Plaintiff not be fired. Despite HR’s recommendation, the Executive VP went on to terminate the Plaintiff as part of a larger reduction in force.
The Court found that a reasonable jury could find that the real reason the Plaintiff was fired was that the VP wanted to appear responsive to race complaints and make an example of the white Plaintiff.
The lessons for employers are clear:
- All race-based terminations are unlawful, even terminations of white employees by white employers.
- Although employers may feel compelled to take immediate action in order to send a message that they take race complaints seriously, employers should investigate complaints and get all the facts before they take action.
- HR should not investigate complaints with a pre-determined outcome in mind. Investigations should be objective and fair.