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4th Circuit: Black Workers May Pursue Class-Action Racial Discrimination Claim

Posted by Sean Cecil | May 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Black workers at Nucor Steel in Charleston, SC sued claiming a racially hostile environment and discriminatory promotion practices. However, the trial court judge decertified their class on the promotions claim. 

Holding that the trial judge erred in his interpretation of a 2011 class-action case wherein the US Supreme Court ruled that female Wal-mart employees failed to prove their claims were similar enough to satisfy the "commonality" requirement of class certification, a divided 4th Circuit panel remanded the case with instructions to certify the class. Originally, the district court denied class certification on both claims, and the 4th Circuit ordered them certified; the district court de-certified after the Wal-mart case. 

For a second time, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge erred in refusing to certify the workers' class where: 

1. Statistics indicated that promotions at Nucor depended in part on whether an individual was black or white; 

2. Substantial anecdotal evidence suggests discrimination in specific promotions decisions in multiple plant departments; 

3. significant evidence suggests promotions decisions were made in the context of a racially hostile work environment. 

Based upon those factors, the court stated, the district court "fundamentally misapprehended the reach of Wal-Mart and its application to the workers' promotion class" and the court remanded for re- certification."  

The workers' promotions claim rests on alternative theories of liability under Title VII, which prohibits employment discrimination because of an individual's “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. The promotions claim first alleges a pattern or practice of racially disparate treatment in promotions decisions. Second, it charges that Nucor's facially neutral promotions policies and procedures had a racially disparate impact. Both theories are grounded in a statistical analysis of racial disparities in job promotions at the plant combined with anecdotal evidence of discrimination. 

The ruling is more about class-certification requirements than the merits of the claims, but it makes for an interesting read and is a huge win for SC workers facing what appears to be pernicious racial discrimination. This case is pretty old  and has been to the 4th Circuit twice now without any trial- it is time for these workers to get their day in court! 

About the Author

Sean Cecil

Sean is an experienced advocate dedicated to justice for all people. He believes that individual human rights outweigh the freedom to make an easy dollar.

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