7th Circuit Affirms Summary Judgment on Title VII Race Discrimination Lawsuit

On April 24, 2017, the 7th Circuit affirmed an order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer in a Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to hire him as a truck driver because of his race, after his routine drug test was allegedly positive for marijuana use.  Turner v. Hirschbach Motor Lines, No. 15-3263 (7th Cir. April 24, 2017).  The plaintiff alleged that the decision to not hire him was racially discriminatory.  However, he failed to offer evidence that the racial animus of an employee who was involved in the drug testing procedures, but was not a decision-maker on the hiring decision, caused the defendant to not hire him.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII") prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race as well as several other protected classifications such as sex, religion, national origin, color and genetic information.  In this case, the defendant offered the plaintiff a job as a truck driver, contingent on his successful completion of orientation and a drug test, among other conditions.  The plaintiff, who is African-American, alleged that throughout the orientation process, he was subjected to insults by the employee responsible for evaluating and hiring job applicants.  He also alleged that the defendant's safety officer harbored and was motivated by a racial animus in allegedly denying the plaintiff the opportunity to take a secondary or "split" drug test, which he claimed cost him the job.  But the safety officer was not the decision-maker on the hiring decision.  Thus, the plaintiff had to proceed under the so-called "cat's paw" theory of liability--that the discriminatory animus of the non-decision-maker influenced and caused the adverse employment decision of the actual decision-maker.  However, he failed to succeed on this theory due to the lack of evidence that the racial animus of the non-decision-maker caused him to not be hired.  There was no evidence that the failure to hire him was proximately caused by the safety officer's allegedly discriminatory action in cancelling the split test.