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Fourth Circuit Concludes Disciplinary Actions Not Race Discrimination Absent Specific Proof of Disparate Treatment

    Client Alerts
  • January 26, 2007

In discrimination claims brought under Title VII, plaintiffs often admit engaging in disciplinary violations or performance issues that form the basis of the employer’s reasons for termination or other actions.  The discrimination claims are based not upon allegations that the violations were manufactured, but rather that employees outside of the protected classification engaged in the same behaviors and were not disciplined.  A new Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes North and South Carolina) case examines the level of proof required for such disparate treatment claims.  The suit was filed by an African-American nurse at a South Carolina state medical facility, who claimed that her supervisor harassed and discriminated against her due to her race.  She admitted absenteeism problems and medication documentation errors, but claimed that similarly situated White employees had the same problems, but were ignored by the supervisor.


The Fourth Circuit affirmed a grant of summary judgment for the employer.  It concluded that the plaintiff could not provide adequate evidence demonstrating that her supervisor’s treatment was based on race.  He never made any derogatory comments to the plaintiff or to others based on race.  The plaintiff’s conclusory statements regarding treatment of White nurses were never backed by any specific evidence beyond her own general statements.  The supervisor’s alleged personal dislike of the plaintiff, and stress that resulted from their relationship are not adequate to conclude that such actions were motivated by race.  Absent direct evidence of race discrimination, claims of discrimination involving legitimate disciplinary violations remain very difficult for plaintiffs to pursue.