A Verizon employee was terminated as part of a reduction-in-force. She, however, alleged that she had suffered a sexually- and racially-motivated hostile work environment, and that she’d been fired because of her gender and race and for complaining of the discriminatory acts.
The woman, an African-American, began working at Verizon in May 2004. She cited numerous incidents which she believed constituted gender and racial discrimination. These were all at the hands of three co-workers. One was a man who allegedly did the following: leaving balled-up pieces of paper on her desk with comments mocking her intelligence in 2006; refusing to help when she asked for assistance; lunging for the remote control when she was monitoring a TV show in 2007; a history of bullying women in the workplace; responding to a request for help by trying to grab her, throwing items off his own desk and shelf and kicking a trashcan in 2008; and, also in 2008, responding to an inquiry by yelling, pushing and throwing things.
The other two employees who allegedly advanced a hostile work environment were a female (and friend to the aforementioned male co-worker) who kicked the woman’s desk three times and a man who said “Greens for everybody” when President Obama was elected in 2008 – a reference to collard greens. The woman made several complaints to managers, her supervisor and an HR rep. She was fired in May 2009.
She filed an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) charge and received a Right-to-Sue letter. She followed this with a lawsuit, claiming a hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation. The district court ultimately ruled in favor of Verizon, believing that the plaintiff had not proven discrimination or retaliation and couldn’t show that the alleged harassment was based on her gender or race.
Appellate judges concurred with the district court. The plaintiff hadn’t shown how the incidents she pointed to were motivated by her gender or race. The man’s reported bullying of other women was not supported by any evidence. And the only incident which was undoubtedly based on race is the “Greens for everybody” comment. But the plaintiff has to prove a “pattern” of harassment, and that particular comment was only one occurrence and could not be connected to the other male co-worker who provided the bulk of her case.
She also wasn’t able to successfully show that Verizon’s reason for termination was a pretext for discrimination and retaliation. She made several allegations, such as a manager not attending a retirement party she’d organized for African-American colleagues, but didn’t show unfavorable treatment for most of the allegations and linked none of them to the loss of her job. She also didn’t argue that any of the three employees fired as a reduction-in-force, including the man who made the Obama gibe, were treated differently due to gender or race.
The plaintiff’s attempt to connect a “rumor” – that she was going to be laid off for her complaints – to her termination failed to sway the courts, as she hadn’t specified who told her the rumor, who else might have heard it, when it was said or in what context. Because the woman had not proven a hostile work environment, discrimination or retaliation, appellate judges affirmed the district court’s decision.