Circuit says no “token” exception in discrimination claim

Court reversed summary judgment in favor of Kraft

According to the 7th Circuit, favorable treatment of one member of a protected class does not excuse discrimination toward other members of that class.

In a recent case, four former Kraft Foods employees, who were Hispanic, claimed that while they worked for the company, their supervisor discriminated against them by assigning them undesirable responsibilities and hours, as well as making derogatory comments about their ethnicity. They also claim, when their roles were outsourced to a third party, the supervisor prevented them from applying for and obtaining positions within Kraft and at the other company.

Kraft said the supervisor didn’t violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as the plaintiffs claimed, citing one Hispanic employee who was not discriminated against. The district court granted Kraft summary judgment and the plaintiffs appealed.

The 7th Circuit recently reversed that judgment, saying “Title VII would have little force if an employer could defeat a claim of discrimination by treating a single member of the protected class in accordance with the law.” 

"Merely because an employer treated one minority employee favorably will not be dispositive evidence of a lack of discriminatory intent relative to the treatment of another minority employee," says Nadine Abrahams, a partner at Jackson Lewis. "For example, the fact that an African American employee was promoted in a certain department does not establish that the same supervisor did not discriminate against a different African American employee in the same department when that employee was denied a promotion. Instead, under the McDonnell Douglas framework, the key consideration remains whether the minority employee denied the promotion was treated less favorably than a similarly situated non-minority employee."

Read more about this case on Jackson Lewis’ summary of this ruling.

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Cathleen Flahardy

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