Tarshish Jones, a veteran Kansas City firefighter, won a $356,000 workplace discrimination settlement against the KC fire department in October of last year. The settlement came after Missouri legislators changed the law raising the standard of proof in discrimination cases. Beforehand, employees claiming workplace discrimination need only prove that discrimination played into an overall decision-making process that saw employees of a protected class passed up for promotions or fired. Under the new law, plaintiffs must show that discrimination was the prime motivating factor.
While the new law makes it more difficult for employees to file claims against their employers and more difficult to prove those cases in court, looking at a successful case like this one can be enlightening for those who are thinking about pursuing litigation against their employers.
The Case against the KC Fire Department
The law mandates that racial discrimination cannot be the prime motivating factor for denying someone a promotion. In the case of TJ Jones, Mr. Jones had been passed up for a promotion by the KC Fire Department three times despite exemplary service.
After 19 years of service for the Fire Department, Mr. Jones had applied for the captain’s position three times, and each time, despite being highly qualified and having put in the years necessary to earn the position, was passed up for a white employee.
The lawyer for Mr. Jones, who has represented other KCFD employees, remarked that the testing procedure, which includes a videotaped interview, is remarkably subjective and that favoritism plays a large role in the selection process.
In response to this criticism, the KCFD has begun outsourcing the grading of the videotaped part of the test to a private firm to prevent internal bias against certain firefighters.
Nonetheless, Mr. Jones was able to prove his case to a jury, which gave him a sizeable settlement.
Why This Case was Successful
There were two key elements that convinced a jury that the reason Mr. Jones had been passed up for promotion was likely due to his race and not any other pretense that the lawyers for the KCFD could contrive.
Firstly, his service record was exemplary. Not only had he been a firefighter within the department for 19 years, but he was more than qualified for the position of captain.
Secondly, those who were given the captain’s position were arguably less qualified than Jones because he had seniority. Not only that, but there is an astounding lack of African-American firefighters in supervisory roles within the KCFD.
These two factors convinced a jury that it was more likely than not that Jones had been passed up for the position because he was black and not because the other candidates were more qualified.
Have You Been Passed Up for a Promotion Because of Your Ethnicity?
Not only is that unfair, but it is also illegal. Missouri law protects employees who are passed for promotions based on their skin color, gender, nation of origin, religion, age, or disability. If you have been unfairly discriminated against, call HKM Employment Attorneys of Kansas City at 816.607.4691, and we will begin discussing your case right away.