When pursuing a federal employment discrimination claim, plaintiffs frequently allege multiple bases for the claim, i.e., age and disability, or gender and religion. Last month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that these discrimination claims should not be viewed separately, but rather as an amalgamation of the protected classifications claimed.
Shazor v. Professional Transit Mgmt., Ltd. involved race and sex discrimination claims by a terminated African-American female executive. She was replaced by a Hispanic female, and the defendant moved for summary judgment, contending among other things, that the plaintiff could not pursue her sex discrimination claim because she was replaced by another woman.
The Sixth Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment for the defendant, remanding the matter for trial. In its opinion, the court said that the plaintiff’s sex discrimination allegations could not be separated from her race claim. Due to stereotypes about African-American women, the plaintiff could have been discriminated against based on her gender, even if she was replaced by another woman. Under this theory, these same stereotypes would not apply to Hispanic females or African-American males. Gender cannot be separated from race when analyzing the actual reasons why the plaintiff was terminated.
Many employers believe that if they hire a replacement employee who is the same race/sex/age as the terminated employee, they have insulated themselves from claims of discrimination on this basis. This case shows that in some circumstances, plaintiffs may be able to survive motions to dismiss their claims by including a second protected category in the discrimination claim.