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September 8, 2023
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In Ossmann v. Meredith Corp., the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said EEO form data does not contain the evidence necessary to show a termination was a pretext for racial discrimination. Here, the plaintiff was a long-time meteorologist for a CBS television station in Georgia. During his employment, several female co-workers repeatedly complained that he engaged in sexual harassment. The complaints included explicit comments about sexual dreams involving the female coworkers, requests for nude photos, inappropriate sexual Facebook messages, descriptions of sexual acts, and unwanted comments about their physical appearance. During the course of these complaints, the HR Director and direct supervisor met with the plaintiff to remind him of the company’s zero-tolerance policy on workplace harassment and provided him with written warnings. This process continued until his suspension and ultimate termination. The plaintiff sued the television station alleging he was terminated not for sexual harassment violations but for race discrimination in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.
The plaintiff pointed to an EEO Analysis that was required by the television station for any discharge, job elimination, restructuring or reorganization as evidence of discrimination. The document contained space to record the complaints made and the company’s response and listed the plaintiff’s race, sex, and age. There was also space to include comparisons with employees who had been in similar situations and the result. The demographics of those employees was also recorded. The plaintiff alleged the listing of his demographic information “tainted the decisionmaking process.”
The court ultimately concluded that this documentation does not “remotely approach the amount of evidence necessary for a reasonable jury to conclude that [the plaintiff] was fired because of his race.” The form, in actuality, documented the specific incidents of sexual harassment. A termination is not race-based just because racial data is included in the documentation. The documentation did not require engaging in “racial balancing” to determine an outcome. There was no evidence of intentional discrimination against the plaintiff based on race.
- Review termination documentation processes for compliance.
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