Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of “Reverse” Racial Discrimination Claim Against Cracker Barrel
In Martinez v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., Case No. 11-2189 (6th Cir. Jan. 10, 2013), in a published decision, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a "reverse" racial discrimination claim arising out of Cracker Barrel's termination of the plaintiff's position as a retail manager at a Flint, Michigan Cracker Barrel.
The plaintiff was a general manager of a Cracker Barrel store for ten years. Cracker Barrel terminated the plaintiff because she violated company policy when she made remarks during conversations regarding the Haiti earthquake, the plight of those in Haiti, and the use of a "bridge card" as a "ghetto card." The plaintiff, a Caucasian, contended that similarly situated African Americans were treated more favorably than her—i.e., not fired for making similar remarks.
Interestingly, the Sixth Circuit noted that a claim of "reverse" racial discrimination under federal law requires a showing of "background circumstances supporting the suspicion that the defendant is that unusual employer who discriminates against the majority." Because the plaintiff also brought a claim alleging race discrimination under Michigan's law, however, she did not need to satisfy this heightened standard of proof to establish a claim because Michigan does not require a heightened standard of proof for reverse discrimination claims.
The Sixth Circuit dismissed the claims because, first, the plaintiff did not come forward with direct evidence of reverse discrimination because her evidence required an inference that Cracker Barrel terminated her based on race. Second, the plaintiff did not come forward with sufficient evidence that another similarly situated employee was treated more favorably—the plaintiff was differently situated in the management structure of the store and also engaged in more pervasive and severe conduct. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit found that the plaintiff could not establish a prima facie case of discrimination.