April 24, 2014

Employee's Disagreement with Employer's Investigation Does Not Prove Retaliation

In Collins v. American Red Cross, No. 08-cv-50160 (7th Cir. Mar. 8, 2013), the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the American Red Cross, finding that the employer's investigation report, albeit possibly incorrect, is not evidence of unlawful retaliation or discrimination. Collins, an African-American woman, worked for the Red Cross. In 2006, Collins filed a racial discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") based on harassment from her co-workers. Collins received a "right-to-sue" letter, but did not file a suit. In 2007, Collins's co-workers complained that, among other acts of misconduct, Collins said that the Red Cross was out to get minorities. The human resources officer assigned to investigate found that all of these allegations against Collins were "substantiated," and Collins was terminated.

Collins sued, claiming that her termination was in retaliation for her filing of the EEOC charge. Collins claimed that the report did not really substantiate the claim that Collins said the Red Cross is out to get minorities, and therefore, the report must have been referring to the EEOC complaint. Although the report was "sloppy, and perhaps it was also mistaken or even unfair," Title VII only forbids discriminatory or retaliatory terminations. Nothing in the report suggested the Red Cross was concerned with Collins's EEOC complaint. Collins only providedspeculation that the report was incorrect because of the EEOC complaint, and mere speculation is not enough to overcome summary judgment. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the Red Cross on Collins's retaliation claim because she failed to show a causal link between the filing of her EEOC complaint and her subsequent termination.

The Seventh Circuit also affirmed summary judgment on Collins's race discrimination claim because Collins failed to prove that the Red Cross' reason for termination was pretextual, emphasizing that "pretext means a lie." The only piece of evidence Collins offered was that she denied all the allegations raised by her co-worker's complaints. Denying the allegations is not enough to survive summary judgment because the "fact that a statement is inaccurate does not meant that it is a deliberate lie." Evidence that an employer reached the wrong conclusion can suggest discrimination if the conclusion were "incredible on its face." However, here, the court found that the report's conclusions were not incredible, and there was nothing in the record to suggest racial animus toward Collins. While the Red Cross's report may have been wrong, that is not enough for Collins's claim to survive summary judgment.

© 2014 Schiff Hardin LLP

About the Author

Katherine Cisneros, Schiff Hardin, Law Firm, Attorney

Katherine G. Cisneros is taking advantage of the opportunity for new associates to work in several practice groups for broadened experience and expanded legal counseling perspectives.


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