In Clark v. Chickasaw County, Mississippi, d/b/a Shearer-Richardson Memorial Nursing Home,[1] a full-time Certified Nurses Assistant (“CNA”) alleged discrimination on the basis of her race (Black) and retaliation for having made complaints of discrimination.  Ms. Clark complained to the Administrator of the Nursing Home regarding what she believed to be discriminatory practices by her supervisor against African-American staff.  Soon thereafter, Ms. Clark was demoted to part-time employment and later was discharged.  

A.                         The Administrator Failed To Investigate The Alleged Discrimination.

Although the Nursing Home articulated a legitimate and non-discriminatory basis (i.e. excessive absenteeism and tardiness) for Ms. Clark’s demotion, the District Court denied the Nursing Home’s motion for summary judgment.  It did so, in part, because a coworker purportedly told Ms. Clark that her Supervisor, “don’t like nobody black” and therefore did not like Ms. Clark.  When confronted by Ms. Clark, the supervisor purportedly admitted to having made the statement.  On another occasion, the supervisor allegedly said “I know how your kind of people are”, which Ms. Clark perceived to mean that all African Americans are “troublemakers.”  Further, it was alleged that similarly situated Caucasian coworkers were late multiple times without discipline or demotion and that although Plaintiff complained to the Nursing Home’s Administrator regarding the alleged discrimination, remedial action was not taken.

B.                        Plaintiff Was Demoted Within A Week Of Her Complaint Of Discrimination.

In evaluating Ms. Clark’s retaliation claim, the District Court noted that Ms. Clark’s causal connection between the complaint of discrimination and demotion was the temporal proximity of the two events – one week.  Despite the Nursing Homes’ seemingly non-discriminatory basis for Ms. Clark’s demotion, the District Court concluded “a reasonable juror could conclude Plaintiff was retaliated against for complaining about any alleged discrimination” because the demotion occurred one week after her complaint.  

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This decision is yet another reminder to employers and their carriers that possibly discriminatory conduct is costly.  Comprehensive and accessible anti-harassment policies and regular employee anti-harassment and discrimination prevention training are as fundamentally necessary as ever.   It is critical that complaints of discrimination be addressed properly before litigation commences.   Thereafter, once a complaint of discrimination is made, employers must tread carefully before taking adverse employment action.   While independent circumstances may require discipline or discharge shortly after a complaint is made, the basis for the adverse employment action must be supported by demonstrable evidence and must be consistent with prior decisions.

 


[1] No: 1:09CV192-SA-JAD (N. D. Miss.  September 16, 2010).