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A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated a race discrimination lawsuit against an automaker, in a case in which a terminated black employee claimed he was treated less favorably than a white employee in a comparable situation.
Kenya N. Spratt worked as a senior construction buyer at FCA US LLC, an Auburn Hills, Michigan-based car manufacturer that is a member of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV family of companies, according to Wednesday’s ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati in Kenya N. Spratt v. FCA US LLC.
Mr. Spratt admitted he falsified bids submitted by potential contractors for a large-scale construction project renovating the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, according to the ruling.
But he said he had legitimate reasons for having done so, believing someone in the company’s facilities group was sharing information about the bidding process with one of the competing contractors.
After the falsification was discovered, there was an investigation and Mr. Spratt was terminated in 2017. Mr. Spratt, who is black, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit, contending his white predecessor, who had engaged in similar conduct, was not only not terminated, but effectively promoted. He charged the company with unlawful employment discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The district court granted FCA US summary judgment dismissing the case, but was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.
The “only issue on appeal is whether Plaintiff has demonstrated a triable issue as to pretext based on differential treatment between himself and his alleged comparator,” said the ruling.
The panel decided he had done so. FCA argues that plaintiff’s misconduct was more serious and his violations of the company’s policies more numerous than the other employees, and that the results of the plaintiff’s investigation were conclusive, while the results of the other employee’s investigation were inconclusive, said the ruling.
“While these arguments may ultimately succeed in persuading a jury that race discrimination did not motivate FCA US’s decision to terminate Plaintiff, they do not entitle Defendant to judgment as matter of law,” said the ruling,
Mr. Spratt’s and the other employee’s alleged misconduct “was of the same type,” said the ruling. A reasonable juror could also find their “respective wrongdoings were comparably serious based on the actual and potential harm to the company,” it said, in reversing the district court’s decision and remanding the case for further proceedings.
Mr. Spratt’s attorney, Tad T. Roumayah, a shareholder with Sommers Schwartz P.C. in Southfield, said in a statement, “We are pleased with this unanimous 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision reversing the lower court’s dismissal of Mr. Spratt’s race discrimination lawsuit. We look forward to presenting the facts and circumstances surrounding Mr. Spratt’s illegal firing to a jury.”
An FCA US spokesman had no comment.
Last month, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and held a former PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP employee must have her discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII arbitrated.
(Reuters) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Fiat Chrysler’s appeal in a class action lawsuit over allegations that its Jeeps and other trucks are vulnerable to hacking, one of the first legal cases involving automotive cybersecurity risks.