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Mixed ruling in bias case revives retaliation charges

Mixed ruling in bias case revives retaliation charges

A federal appeals court has affirmed dismissal of racial and age discrimination charges filed by a health system worker who was transferred to another position — but reinstated her retaliation charges — in a divided opinion.

Monica Rogers, an African-American woman in her 60s, has been employed by Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System for more than 30 years, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Monica J. Rogers v. Henry Ford Health System.

In late 2012, while she was working as a consultant in the system’s organizational human resources development department, she was denied reclassification as a senior consultant and filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the ruling.

A few months later, co-workers “began reporting that Rogers’s emotional state was erratic, and they feared she might pose a physical threat to herself or others,” said the ruling.

She was placed on paid leave and sent for a fitness-for-duty exam. After a doctor cleared her for work, she claimed she was offered the choice of either transferring to a less desirable position in a subsidiary of the system or taking severance. Ms. Rogers chose to transfer and filed a second EEOC complaint.

She then sued the system in U.S. District Court in Detroit on charges including violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964 for alleged racial and age discrimination and retaliation. The District Court granted the system summary judgment dismissing the entire case.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit unanimously affirmed the lower court’s summary judgment on Ms. Rogers’ racial and age discriminations charges. But the majority opinion disagreed with its summary judgment on her retaliation claims.

The opinion said the cumulative effect of the system’s actions, including allegedly offering Ms. Rogers a choice only between taking a severance package or transferring her to a subsidiary, “is sufficient such that a jury could find that they would have dissuaded a reasonable employee from making a charge of discrimination.”

Although the system “legitimately investigated concerns about Rogers’s alleged erratic behavior to ensure the safety of both Rogers and her co-workers — after these concerns were addressed, they could not support the decision to offer Rogers only a transfer to (the subsidiary) or severance,” said the ruling.

Furthermore, testimony by the vice president of human resources “about why he proposed that she transfer allows a reasonable factfinder to conclude that he was motivated by the EEOC charge that Rogers had recently filed,” said the opinion, in reinstating the retaliation charges and remanding the case for further proceedings.

The dissenting opinion states Ms. Rogers “lacks evidence that the person who offered her the transfer… had any animus towards her.

“That leaves us with the benign motive Henry Ford proffers: namely that (the vice president) offered the transfer to defuse the tension between Rogers and the many co-workers who had independently raised concerns about her behavior.”

In July, a federal appeals court reinstated a retaliation charge filed by a fired black city worker whose supervisor kept marking her tardy for arriving five minutes late, although she had permission to do so, and kept track of her bathroom breaks. 



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