Courtney Edmond sued former employer Wells Fargo Clearing Services for discrimination based on race and national origin after he was terminated due to findings that Edmond’s personal business dealings conflicted with those of his employer and violated its code of ethics.
Edmond also claimed he was retaliated against for raising concerns about the Black customer experience when he was interviewed by the bank about his personal dealings, prior to his termination.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found last month that Edmond’s claims all failed as a matter of law.
Edmond could not demonstrate that his termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because he could not show that the position remained open, was filled by a similarly qualified applicant outside his protected class, or that a similarly qualified applicant was retained under similar circumstances, criteria necessary for a successful wrongful termination claim.
Even if he could provide this evidence, his claim would have likely failed because he was terminated for a legitimate and non-discriminatory reason.
Edmond also claimed he was treated differently because of his race, but had no evidence to support this claim, the court said.
Edmond could not prevail on his claim that his employer failed to promote him because he could not demonstrate that he “applied or even attempted to apply for a promotion,” the court said.
In responding to his claims of retaliation, the court noted his failure to show a causal relationship between his claims of the Black experience and his termination.
Finally, Edmond argued that Wells Fargo “unintentionally discriminated through a facially neutral policy.”
But the court said, “this claim also fails because he provides no evidence of a facially neutral employment practice that had a significant discriminatory impact.”
Employers can discern some critical recommendations from this case.
First, make sure that termination decisions are well-documented and for legitimate and non-discriminatory reasons.
If an employer is terminating an individual, be mindful that, for example, replacing a 62-year-old Hispanic male terminated for undocumented performance issues will receive higher scrutiny if replaced by a 26-year-old white female.
Second, set your organization up for success with well-written and communicated policies, and then execute a legitimate and objective process for investigating alleged violations.
If there are behaviors that are important to the organization, then having a clear policy on those expectations is important, as is communicating the policy.
After suspicious account activity, Wells Fargo conducted a thorough investigation and concluded that Edmond violated Wells Fargo’s Code of Ethics and Personal Finances policies because he could not explain a source of funds, as well as other discrepancies.
The investigators were certified in their fields and interviewed Edmond multiple times.
Third, make sure that your organization understands the EEOC process. Edmond also claimed that he was discriminated against based on his national origin in his lawsuit, but when he filed his Charge of Discrimination (a prerequisite to filing a federal lawsuit), he alleged discrimination only based on race and gender, and he didn’t mention national origin. His national origin claim was therefore procedurally barred from the lawsuit.
Fourth, for all promotions, require an application process. As the court noted, Edmond did not apply for any promotion. The court noted that Edmond “offers no evidence that Wells Fargo stood in the way of his advancement in any way, not to mention in a way that gives rise to an inference of discrimination.” Employers need a fair, objective and non-discriminatory promotions process.
Finally, employers can avoid successful retaliation challenges by not allowing any protected activities to creep into the decision-making process.
Ultimately, successful cases depend on following internal processes and policies, investigating all complaints and concerns thoroughly and with those trained in the field being investigated, and then making decisions that are well-documented.
Consistently holding all those who commit similar offenses similarly accountable is also key to prevailing in a discrimination complaint.
Karen Michael is an attorney and president of Richmond-based KarenMichael PLC and author of “Stay Hired.” She can be reached at [email protected].