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7th Circuit reverses ‘troubling’ ruling in discrimination case

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Because a District Court judge made several errors in analyzing the evidence brought by an African-American electrician in his lawsuit alleging he wasn’t hired because of his race, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed judgment in favor of the company.

Matthew Whitfield brought an action alleging failure to hire and violation of the Civil Rights Act against Navistar after the company continually hired less-qualified white applicants for open electrical positions. He first applied in 1996 but wasn’t immediately hired because some years of his experience could not be verified. In 1998, while his application was still pending, he received his journeyman card from the union which showed he had at least eight years of experience, as was necessary to be hired. But he was never hired.

According to the court record, the cover letter in his file had the word “Black” on it, but no one with Navistar could explain why it was there. In 2001, Whitfield and 26 others sued Navistar, alleging discrimination and a racially hostile work environment. Most people settled that case, but Whitfield’s hiring discrimination claim went to trial.

Chief Judge Richard Young refused to admit evidence from the class trial, which was proffered one day into trial, saying it was untimely. Young then determined Whitfield’s evidence didn’t imply any discrimination, he did not meet Navistar’s unstated qualifications for the job, and he did not offer any compelling comparator evidence.

The 7th Circuit found “troubling” the determination that there is no evidentiary link between the cover page and an intent to discriminate.

“First, this strikes us as evidence of racial coding, which strongly infers discrimination,” wrote Judge Richard Cudahy. “Second, the district court apparently ignored rather extensive evidence of the racially hostile environment within which this cover page was attached to Whitfield’s personnel file.”

Young concluded that the file could mean that “Black” was written for affirmative action purposes, but no one from Navistar offered that as an explanation. The 7th Circuit also concluded that the District Court committed a “more egregious” error by giving enormous weight to the fact that Navistar hired a female, African-American electrician around the time Whitfield’s application was pending.

“In doing so, the district court again shut its eyes to the entire record, choosing an implausible view of the evidence, and, at the same time, misapplied the law,” Cudahy wrote.

The evidence shows that Whitfield had more experience that many of the white electricians hired at the time he applied, and that some even had none of the skills that Navistar claimed Whitfield lacked, thus justifying their decision to not hire him. Any errors that were in Whitfield’s application were rectified by 1998, yet he was still not hired, the 7th Circuit noted.

The case, Matthew Whitfield v. International Truck and Engine Corp., 13-1876, is remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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