Anthony Rachells, despite having "received numerous sales awards, consistently exceeded company sales goals with the greatest margin of any of his co-workers, and, in 2003, earned the top performance review among his Cingular peers," was let go in a RIF following the acquisition of AT&T Wireless by Cingular Wireless. He claimed that he was terminated because of race discrimination. In support of this claim, Rachells sought to present evidence from two other Cingular employees who experience race discrimination in the course of their employment. The Sixth Circuit, in reversing a summary judgment, ruled once again that evidence of other discriminatory practices is relevant and admissible in support of a plaintiff's claim of individualized discrimination. Rachells v Cingular Wireless, No 12-4137 (October 17, 2013).
Rachells claimed that race discrimination was the reason he was terminated by Cingular Wireless in a RIF. He sought to introduce affidavits from two other Cingular employees regarding discriminatory practices they suffered. Cingular argued this evidence was not relevant because the two other employees "operated in a different business channel and generally had different co-workers and direct supervisors than did Rachells." The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument explaining as follows:
Indeed, "evidence of a ... discriminatory atmosphere is not rendered irrelevant by its failure to coincide precisely with the particular actors or timeframe involved in the specific events that generated a claim of discriminatory treatment." Thus, even the conduct of a nondecisionmaker may be probative of whether an adverse action directed at a plaintiff was racially motivated. Moreover, "management's consideration of an impermissible factor in one context may support the inference that the impermissible factor entered the decisionmaking process in another context." Factors affecting whether discriminatory atmosphere evidence is probative of discrimination in a particular case include: "the actor's position in the employer's hierarchy, the purpose and content of the conduct, and the temporal connection between the conduct and the challenge employment action, as well as whether the conduct buttresses other evidence of pretext."
One piece of this evidence were complaints by other African-American employees that their performance evaluations were tainted by race discrimination. There was no response to these "multiple complaints of discrimination," and the Sixth Circuit asserted that "this failure to investigate could be construed by a reasonable jury as willful and action and condemnation of such discriminatory conduct." Furthermore and significantly the Sixth Circuit observed that evidence regarding this nonresponse was "not rendered irrelevant simply because those events predated the RIF by a year and a half."
The Rachells case was discussed in two previous posts: "It Strains Credulity to Imagine That the Qualifications for a Sales Position ... Are Unrelated To Demonstrated Sales Ability" and Who Are Comparable Employees In A RIF Case?