People's Law Guide
Florida's Third District Court of Appeal reversed an adverse jury verdict that an employer had committed raced discrimination against one of its employees. The jury verdict was rendered in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. Before reversal on appeal, the employee had won a whopping $72,241 in lost wages plus $2.5 million in compensatory damages.
The appellate court explained that the employee failed to establish a prima facie case of race discrimination. The opinion stated that "[a] jury's verdict cannot rest on a mere probability or guess, and we cannot affirm a verdict where it has no rational predicate in the evidence."
The court explained that Florida law prohibits racial discrimination. The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 provides in pertinent part that "It is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discharge or to fail or refuse to hire any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual's race …" Section 760.10(1)(a), Florida Statutes. It is well settled that Florida courts follow the three-part framework set forth under federal law, commonly referred to as the McDonnell Douglas standard, for establishing a discrimination claim based on disparate treatment in the workplace through circumstantial evidence. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, a plaintiff first must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, a prima facie case of discrimination. If a prima facie case of discrimination is raised successfully, a presumption of discrimination against the defendant arises.
However, even when such "presumption of discrimination" exists, the employer can still defend itself. Once a presumption of discrimination against the employer is shown, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to present a "legitimate, non-discriminatory reason" for the employment action. If the employer meets its burden of offering non-discriminatory reasons for its employment action, then the presumption of discrimination no longer exists, and the employee must prove the employer's legitimate reasons for discharge were a pretext for discrimination.
Demonstrating a prima facie case is not difficult. It requires only that the employee establish "facts adequate to permit an inference of discrimination." However, in this case, the employee failed to establish a critical element: that similarly situated employees outside his protected class were treated more favorably.
At trial, the employee contended, among other things, that an employee outside his protected class was treated more favorably by assuming the employee's role as a department director. However, the evidence contradicted the employee's contention. Although the employee had some managerial duties, they were not nearly as sweeping as the employee contended. Specifically, the employee did not oversee an entire department. Therefore the appellate court decided in favor of the employee.
Attorney Peter Maverick represents management and business owners in employment and labor law. Mr. Maverick has successfully represented many businesses in court as well as in responding to threatened legal action. This article is intended for information purposes only and is not legal advice. This article is not a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular client's situation. Peter T. Maverick can be reached at: Website: www.mavricklaw.com; Telephone: 954-564-2246; Address: 1620 West Oakland Park Boulevard, Suite 300, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.