A light-skinned black employee sued her employer alleging discrimination by her supervisor based on color. The employee alleged that the supervisor, a brown-skinned black, said and did derogatory things to her because the supervisor resented the employee’s lighter skin color. The court recognized that color could be a basis for discrimination under Title VII, but held that the employee failed to demonstrate that the employer had discriminated since there were legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the dismissal.
Employee, a lighter-skinned black female, filed a complaint alleging, among other things, that she had been terminated by her darker-skinned black female supervisor because of employee’s lighter colored skin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employer maintains that employee’s termination was based upon her poor performance, poor attitude and misconduct. Employee argues that these reasons were a mere pretext and that she was actually terminated because of her supervisor’s color-based prejudice. We hold that employee failed to meet her burden by proving by a preponderance of the evidence that her termination was the result of a violation of Title VII rather than the stated reasons of poor performance and attitude. The only significant evidence that employee offered that, if true, would tend to prove that her supervisor did indeed have feelings of prejudice toward her are some derogatory personal comments that her supervisor allegedly made to her, such as: “you need some sun”; “you think you’re bad, you ain’t about nothing, you think you’re somebody, I can do what I want to do to you”; “why don’t you go back to where you belong?”; and “why did you come down here?” However, this court holds that employee has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the comments were in fact made. But even if the comments were made, employee failed to prove that they were uttered for any reason other than the personal animosity that the two individuals might have had for each other. It appears undisputed that there was a personality conflict between the employee and her supervisor, and that her supervisor was not wholly innocent in the propagation of the conflict. However, a personality conflict alone does not establish invidious discrimination. There is ample evidence in the record to support the supervisor’s contention that the reason for the personality conflict, and likewise the subsequent termination of employment, was employee’s performance on the job. Employee has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was terminated because of invidious discrimination on the basis of color on the part of her supervisor. Conversely, the employer has offered legitimate reasons for employee’s termination which the court finds nonpretextual. JUDGMENT for DEFENDANT.
1. Do you think the court was correct in interpreting Title VII to permit a color discrimination case to be brought by a black employee against a black supervisor? Why or why not?
2. If you were the manager here, what would you have done to deal with employee and her supervisor? 3. Since the statements were insufficient to show discrimination, what else do you think the employee could have used to satisfy the court? Do you think the case would have been decided differently if the supervisor was a different race than the employee?