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No Title VII Violation in Termination of Employee, 10th Cir. Says

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By Betty Wang, JD on November 12, 2013 10:47 AM

The Tenth Circuit has upheld a district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the New Mexico Environment Department's Farmington office, finding no violation under Title VII.

Michael Lobato was a probationary employee at NMED as an inspector of food service providers, liquid waste systems, and public swimming pools. NMED served Lobato with a notice of dismissal listing several grounds for his termination, including the fact that Lobato was dishonest in his employment application and about staying at a hotel in order to receive a per diem reimbursement. They also mentioned his rude and unprofessional attitude.

Lobato, in turn, contends that his firing was in violation of several acts, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Title VII Claims

Lobato's two relevant claims under Title VII involve the following provisions: that employers are prohibited from discharging any employees on the basis of race or national origin, and that retaliating against an employee who reports violations are forbidden.

The court analyzed those claims by using the burden-shifting framework that was established in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, where:

  • Lobato has the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination.
  • Then, the burden shifts to NMED to assert a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its decision.
  • If NMED can make such a showing, then the burden shifts back to Lobato to show there is a genuine dispute regarding whether the explanation was pretext for discrimination.

Because the parties did not dispute the first two steps, the court's analysis turned on the third step -- pretext.

Tenth Finds No Pretext

The Tenth Circuit has adopted a general rule stating that an employee must proffer evidence showing each of the employer's justifications as pretextual, under Bryant vs. Farmers Insurance Exchange.

Lobato's status as a probationary employee, according to the State Personnel Board Rules governing NMED, meant that he could be suspended, demoted, or dismissed without a right of appeal, as long as he had written notice.

After a review of the facts and the reasons behind NMED's decision to terminate Lobato, the Tenth found that Lobato failed to raise any material fact questions as to pretext, and that all of NMED's reasons were nondiscriminatory and legitimate. Nor did Lobato raise any inconsistency or contradiction in NMED's reasons, they saw.

Therefore, the Tenth found that summary judgment was appropriate and affirmed.

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