On Nov. 25, 2019, Judge Jason Pulliam granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment in Richardson v. The Medical Team, Inc., No. 18-CV-00151 (W.D. Tex.). It is a remarkable case. On Jan. 20, Renee Richardson emailed HR that she believed she was the victim of discrimination based on her race. She accused Alan Garza of discrimination. She was then out for a few days due to illness. Then Mr. Garza and others fired her on Jan. 27. One week after her complaint of discrimination, she was fired. To most of us, that chain of events would appear to amount to retaliation. But, not to the Western District.
Judge Pulliam noted rightly that the Plaintiff did not show that the persons who made the decision to fire Ms. Richardson were aware of her complaint of discrimination. The three executives denied being aware of her complaint when they decided to fire her. And, in truth, there is no guarantee that an email to HR will become known to the chain of command within one week. The HR representative testified that she was not sure if she received the email. Presented with the email, she said she had not seen it before. Email is fickle. Some emails do not reach their destination. But, it is also true that the HR representative has every incentive to not recall such an email. The Plaintiff did present evidence that at some unspecified time, Medical Team executives did in fact look for the Jan. 20 email. But, there was no evidence that they found the email, or that they found the email before they made the decision to terminate. That was a critical piece of evidence.
The challenge in every discrimination case is that the supervisors control all or most of the evidence. If they simply recall nothing, there is little the employee can do.
The rest of the case centered on whether the reason advanced by the employer for the termination, low census numbers, was a true reason or true concern for the employer. The court found there was insufficient basis to find issue of material fact for the articulated reason.
The court’s reasoning is not totally unreasonable. Still, the very suspicious timing is just that, suspicious. Surely a jury should decide if it can be inferred that the timing was something more than mere suspicion.