You can’t make this stuff up: A white man was hired by two other white men and worked predominantly with other white individuals. And after he was fired by the white men, he sued his employer for … wait for it … race discrimination.
Meet Tim Huter, a Caucasian male hired as a district manager for Skyline Chili, Inc.’s Columbus, OH area.
Huter was hired by Jeremy Swallow, Skyline’s director of operations, and Joe Dominiak, VP of operations. Both are Caucasian males.
As part of his training, Huter had to shadow Myong Hunkins, a market manager of Korean-American decent who was recently promoted from the district manager position Huter was filling.
According to court documents, Huter had trouble getting along with Skyline employees and was having a tough time acclimating himself to the position in general.
After clashing with one of Skyline’s store managers, Hunkins received an email from the manager stating that Huter had failed to “make a connection with the staff.”
When word of the email reached Swallow, he met with Huter to express concerns that Huter wasn’t “having enough fun and needed to be more part of the group than to try to be in a managerial leadership position.”
Then, Hunkins met with Huter, at which time he expressed his concerns with Hunkins’ ability to perform her job. (Huter appeared convinced from the get-go he was hired to replace Hunkins.)
Hunkins then sent another email up the chain of command stating Huter appeared to have little respect for her ability to do her job.
Dominiak then got involved, sending an email to the company president stating he was supporting Swallow in the decision to terminate Huter from Skyline.
Shortly thereafter, Swallow and an HR rep met with Huter to inform him of his termination. The stated reason for his termination was “people fit” issues.
Huter then sued, claiming he was fired because he was Caucasian.
Skyline moved for summary judgment in an attempt to get Huter’s case thrown out.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio heard the case, and agreed with Skyline that it lacked merit.
As a result, Huter’s case was thrown out.
The court proceeded to shoot numerous holes in Huter’s claims for all kinds of technical reasons, but this statement cuts to the heart of its ruling:
it defies logic that a Caucasian manager would hire him in an attempt to replace a minority manager and then “turn the tables” four months later and fire him for being Caucasian. Having found that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the Court concludes that Skyline is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
While the court didn’t come right out and say this, it stands to reason that if the same individual (or individuals) both hired and fired the person, the employer probably has a pretty strong defense against a race discrimination lawsuit.
As employment law attorney Jon Hyman points out on his Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, courts refer to this as the “same-actor inference.”
Still, Hyman points out, that doesn’t mean the same actor can’t discriminate on the basis of race. But absent any other evidence of discrimination, the same actor inference is a pretty solid basis for a defense.
A sign of the times
The other takeaway from this case: It provides a powerful reminder that scorned employees can sue former employers for just about anything — and not matter how ridiculous the charges, employers have to spend time and money to fight the allegations.
This is one reason it’s important to do what you can to make sure terminations don’t come as a shock to those being terminated. The more warning people have, the more they’ll prepare emotionally — thus lessening the chance of a knee-jerk lawsuit being thrown your way.
Cite: Huter v. Skyline Chili, Inc.