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Sloppy Reporting Not Evidence of Unlawful Discrimination

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 11, 2013 4:09 PM

Toy Collins says her American Red Cross co-workers discriminated against her and harassed her. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2006. Red Cross employees say that Collins stirred tensions among her co-workers and was paranoid that people were out to get her. The charity fired Collins in 2007.

In the she-says, they-say battle surrounding Collins' unlawful retaliation claim, they win because she failed to demonstrate a causal connection between her complaint and her subsequent termination.

The Red Cross hired Collins, who is African-American, in 2000. In 2006, she called the Red Cross confidential hotline to complain about discrimination, claiming that her co-workers put tacks on her chair, damaged her property, demanded private information, stole her files, required her to pay business costs out-of-pocket, and otherwise harassed and sabotaged her. Later that year, she filed a racial discrimination charge with the EEOC.

In 2007, Collins became the subject of her co-workers complaints. They said she told others that the Red Cross was out to get minorities, that she could not work with homosexuals, she instructed an employee to falsify records, coerced a subordinate into teaching a class for free, and gave out blank certifications for Red Cross courses. Janet Stice, a Red Cross human resources officer from a different office investigated the complaint and recommended that Collins be terminated.

After she was fired, Collins sued the Red Cross under Title VII for unlawful retaliation, alleging that the do-good organization was just peeved about her EEOC complaint. The district court granted summary judgment for the Red Cross, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.

To prove retaliation under the "direct method" -- Collins' legal weapon of choice -- a plaintiff must show that she engaged in protected activity under Title VII, the suffered adverse employment action, and there was a causal link between her protected activity and adverse action. Collins satisfied the first two requirements, but she failed to demonstrate a causal connection to support her retaliation claim.

Collins claims that Stice's report included a "substantiated" allegation that Collins "has told others that [the Red Cross] is out to get minorities. According to Collins, Stice's interviews didn't substantiate that claim, so the report must have been referring to Collins' EEOC complaint. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, finding that her theory required too big a logical leap. "Read as a whole, we think it clear that Stice's report was not referring to Collins' EEOC complaint when the report concluded that Collins 'told others that [the Red Cross] is out to get minorities."

Not that Stice's report was perfect. The appellate court observed that the report was sloppy and perhaps incorrect, but there was no evidence that the reports were a product of unlawful discrimination.

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