JUDGE ACKER PROVIDES EMPLOYERS WITH A WEAPON AGAINST DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

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Senior United States District Court Judge William Acker is providing Alabama employers with a highly-effective weapon against employment discrimination complaints.  In many cases, a terminated employee will be a member of multiple protected classes, for example race, age and disability.  When they are terminated from employment, those employees may suspect that one or more of their protected traits were the reason for termination.  As a result of that uncertainty, employers are often sued under multiple federal statutes:  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; and, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judge Acker is putting an end to that practice.  In a string of cases starting with Savage v. Secure First Credit Union, No. 2:14–cv–2468–WMA, –––F.Supp.3d ––––, 2015 WL 2169135 (N.D. Ala. May 8, 2015), Judge Acker is making employees choose exactly which employment law they are claiming has been violated.  Judge Acker’s reasoning is based upon the fact that an employee in ADA, ADEA, and Title VII retaliation cases must prove that the protected characteristic was the “but for” cause of termination.  In other words, the employee must prove that the characteristic was the only reason for termination.

As a result, Judge Acker finds that it is impossible for an employee to file a complaint claiming that he was fired in violation of the ADA or the ADEA or Title VII retaliation.  Instead, he is making employees commit to one discrimination claim.  If they refuse, he is dismissing their case in its entirety.

Notably, a Title VII claim for race, gender or religious discrimination does not require a “but for” causation analysis.  Under Title VII, an employee can recover if his employer had “mixed motives” for termination.  As a result, if race, gender or religion was merely part of the reason for termination, it is possible for an employee to win.  I discussed this possibility in reviewing the case of a transgender auto mechanic who was terminated after sleeping in a customer’s car:  LGBT Issues In the Workplace

Judge Acker’s decision in the Savage case is currently on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  Thus, it is possible that the Eleventh Circuit could find that he is wrong, and employees can be permitted to assert multiple claims, even under “but for” statutes.

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