In this week's Alabama Law Weekly Update, we review two decisions from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, both of which address claims of employment discrimination and retaliation.
Howell v. Correctional Medical Services, Case No. 13-15582 (11th Cir. September 9, 2015) (former employee's good faith, objectively reasonable belief that employer violated law provided basis for trial of retaliation claim).
J. Howell was an employee at Correctional Medical Services (“CMS”). During her employment, Howell complained about alleged workplace harassment. Howell also sued CMS, claiming that CMS discriminated against her by subjecting her to a racially-hostile work environment and then retaliated against her after she complained about her work environment. The trial court found in favor of CMS on both of Howell's claims and Howell appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the trial court regarding Howell's hostile work environment claim, explaining that Howell “failed to show she was subjected to severe or pervasive racial harassment, as required to support a hostile work environment claim.” The Eleventh Circuit disagreed with the trial court regarding Howell's retaliation claim, though. To support a retaliation claim, stated the Eleventh Circuit, Howell had to show she engaged in “statutorily protected activity” and CMS “retaliated against her by imposing an adverse employment action.” The fact that Howell did not prevail on her hostile work environment claim did not prevent her from potentially succeeding on her retaliation claim because, the Eleventh Circuit found, Howell's complaints involved incidents which Howell believed, in good faith, to violate the law and that her belief was objectively reasonable. As a result, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court's decision regarding Howell's retaliation claim and sent the case back to the trial court for a trial on that claim.
King v. Adtran, Inc., ___ Fed. Appx. ___ , Case No. 15-10121 (11th Cir. September 8, 2015) (former employee's belief that older employees were being terminated and replaced by younger employees was not sufficient to rebut stated justification for former employee's termination).
J. King worked for Adtran, Inc. After Adtran terminated King's employment, King filed a lawsuit alleging age discrimination and retaliation. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Adtran and King appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment. The Eleventh Circuit explained that Adtran had set forth legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for King's termination and that King's “‘belief' that seeing older employees being let go and replaced by younger employees” was “mere conjecture” and was not sufficient to establish that Adtran intended to discriminate on the basis of age or prove that Adtran's stated reasons for King's termination were false. Regarding King's retaliation claim, the Eleventh Circuit likewise found that King failed to present evidence showing that Adtran's stated reason for King's termination “was a pretext for retaliation.” As a result, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the trial court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of Adtran.