Thursday, September 2, 2010

California Court finds Genentech did not discriminate against former employee

Sometimes people in Northern California get angry, write offensive emails to their departments at work, get fired and then claim the email was a protected action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  Sometimes those people sue for retaliation, and this is one of those cases.

According to court documents, Christopher Buchanan worked for Genentech as a data analyst from 2004 until August 5, 2008.  On April 21, 2008 Genentech offered him a promotion to business analyst.  He denied the promotion stating he wanted a larger raise than the position offered.  Shortly thereafter, he asked to be removed from his current project because it required "higher technical knowledge than [he] was hired to do."  On May 30, 2008, Buchanan emailed his coworkers and supervisor the following message:
As part of my new and improved job duties, [my supervisor] tells me that I am to solicit work from each of you.  So consider me as your friendly neighborhood field slave begging for work to buy new patches for my pants.  If you have any tasks/work/manual labor/minstrel shows for me to complete, please relay that to me and/or [my supervisor].
On June 2, 2008, the supervisor gave Mr. Buchanan a misconduct notice for violating the non-harassment policy, and terminated later him in August.

The court explained that in order to establish a prima facie case of discrimination the plaintiff must show 1) that he engaged in a protected activity 2) that he was subject to an adverse employment action and 3) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.  Here, Mr. Buchanan stated that the email quoted above was a protected activity citing Wrighten v. Metropolitan Hospitals, Inc..

Ms. Wrighten made many complaints about how Metropolitan Hospital treated African American patients.  After her concerns were ignored she held a press conference, explained them to media and was terminated.  the Ninth Circuit held that because Ms. Wrighten made many complaints to the affirmative action officer and the hospital president her comments were a protected activity. Judge Wilken distinguished Wrighten:
It is not clear that Plaintiff's email, with its sarcastic tone and inappropriate remarks in the context of asking for work projects can even be read to be a complaint about race discrimination. [Therefore] [p]laintiff's email was not a "reasonable attempt" to challenge a discriminatory act of Genentech.
The case is Buchanan v. Genentech, No. 09-1454 and the order is below the jump.

Here is the opinion:
Buchanan v. Genentech

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