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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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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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