Discrimination by Any Other Name Is Still Illegal

To please a client, one placement agency referred to Black men as "basketball players" and Black women as "chocolate cupcakes." See this and other recent discrimination court cases here.


Placement agency cannot hide behind code; settles case for catering to its clients’ discriminatory requests. A placement agency wanted to please its clients. When clients requested preference for no older people, Blacks, Asians, Latinos, people with disabilities, etc., the agency allegedly complied. Knowing that discrimination in placement is illegal, the agency adopted euphemisms and attached them to the applications. “Hockey player” meant white man. “Basketball player” meant Black man. “Small hands” meant woman. “Chocolate cupcake” meant young Black woman. The agency settled the discrimination case for $650,000. (Some of the clients who requested the discriminatory placements are also being sued by the EEOC.) EEOC v. Area Temps (N.D. Ohio, 2010).


Dumping-ground comments cannot overcome pharmacist having given dangerous medications. A 53-year-old pharmacy manager was demoted and reassigned after several incidents of store-policy violations and filling expired prescriptions. At her new assignment, other workers complained about her performance and made comments that their store seemed to be a dumping ground where the company “exiled” the old and slow. After a few months, the pharmacist again violated procedures. The computerized patient history showed that a new prescription could create a life-threatening interaction with another medication the person was taking. The computer blocked the transaction. Nevertheless, the pharmacist overrode the warning and filled the prescription. The next day the pharmacist’s manager saw the transaction, consulted with the prescribing doctor, recalled the dangerous medication and fired the pharmacist. In the ensuing age-discrimination case, the court ruled that the pharmacist’s own behavior and violations of patient care created an overriding, nondiscriminatory basis for the discharge, despite evidence of some age-related remarks. Lindsey v. Walgreen Co. (7th Cir., 2010).

“Too old to matter” comments create triable case. A 54-year-old director of operations for Google was terminated. He then sued for age discrimination. Much of the evidence consisted of age-related comments. The court found that these were not just “stray remarks.” Instead, a decision maker, a 34-year-old executive, made ongoing remarks that the older employee was “not a cultural fit,” was an “old fuddy-duddy,” his “ideas were too old to matter” and he was “obsolete.” Prior to discharge, the employee was “encouraged” to apply for other positions in the company rather than face discharge. However, there was evidence that the executive then sent e-mails to other managers instructing them to not consider the employee for any positions to which he might apply. Reid v. Google, Inc. (Cal. Ct. App., 2010).


Secretary wins $200,000 for standing up to union’s racial discrimination. A clerical employee for a union had 40 years of service with excellent evaluations. Then she raised a concern that a Black electrician who had passed all exams and paid union fees was removed from the union’s referral list, while a white electrician who had not paid fees was put on the list and received referrals for work. After her internal complaint, the secretary then honestly provided information as a witness when the electrician filed a race-discrimination case. The union president retaliated, engaging in a campaign of unfair and unwarranted work critique and discipline, including four unjustified disciplinary actions in a single day. The actions also violated the union’s own progressive discipline policy. Finally, the secretary left on a job-stress-induced disability leave. A jury awarded $200,000, mostly in punitive damages. Blue v. Int. Brotherhood of Electrical Workers – Local 159 (W.D. Wis., 2010).


Plaintiff runs afoul of the “sin exceptions.” An employee of a defense contractor developed a gambling addiction. He failed to pay $30,000 in casino debts and was arrested for larceny. He failed to inform the company of the arrest, as required by company policy and government contract. When he finally came clean about the arrest and gambling issue, he was fired for failure to follow the policy. He sued for disability discrimination, claiming that major depression was his disability and gambling was a manifestation of that condition. The ADA contains exclusions for several conditions that Congress viewed as “improper or immoral.” Even if they are serious mental conditions, they are specifically placed outside the ADA’s requirements for reasonable accommodation or other protections. Compulsive gambling is one of these “sin exceptions.” The court rejected the “gambling as a manifestation of depression” plea as an unsubstantiated effort to work around the exception. It dismissed the case. Trammell v. Raytheon Missile Systems (N.D. Ariz., 2010).

Comparative discipline. An online charter school could not show valid grounds for firing an employee soon after it learned of her bipolar diagnosis. She was fired for insubordination after several minor rule violations over three weeks. However, the court found the timing of the discharge suspicious, occurring soon after the employer learned of the disability. Further, only two other employees had been discharged and both had a longer series of much more serious infractions and were given a much greater period to correct before being fired. The plaintiff’s unequal treatment in comparison with these others led to a conclusion of discrimination. Lagatta v. Penn. Cyper Charter School (W.D. Pa., 2010).

Threats and tantrums. A store manager with PTSD had a number of “meltdowns,” during which she would kick store walls and repeatedly state a desire to hurt someone. She was fired for these behaviors. She sued. The court dismissed the case, finding that she was not a “qualified person with a disability.” Her behaviors did not qualify her to work as a manager. Further, after the discharge, she made a claim for total disability, which was inconsistent with an ADA claim of asking for reinstatement to work.

Bob Gregg, partner in Boardman Law Firm, shares his roundup of diversity-related legal issues. He can be reached at rgregg@boardmanlawfirm.com.


  • I really enjoyed the brief overview of the different cases and rulings. I recently got let go and also felt it was retaliation for speaking up against unfair work policies as well as gender discrimination. However, I’m not really sure how to prove that..but I’m comforted that others are getting their just due through the EEOC.

  • I think the current administration needs to provide oversight to EEOC complaints with the poor ecomomy, certain people think they should be the only ones working and create hostile enviroments for people of color especially and black women to be specfic.

  • As I read these stories/cases my first impulse was “what the” And then I kind of laughed at the sheer stupidity and apparent lack of concern for individuals. I see that it is not only race or color but more and more age, mental and retaliation related incidents.

  • Another great article for consideration. It is always sad when you find individuals who are punished through removal or harassment for doing the right thing and speaking up when they witness discrimation or unfair practice. Yes, there are those who try to take advantage of EEO claims to excuse bad behavior, but for the most part, there are many more cases that are certainly justified. Age, race, ethnicity… how many of us can say that we are not diverse or do not have diversity in our own families. What makes someone think that birth has made them better than someone else? It is time to stop the foolishness and just give everyone the same chance to contribute to being the shining stars that make our country great.

  • Just wondering if contracted or consulting workers who experience discrimination have a leg to stand on if let go for no reason, even though their supposed contract was not over?

  • Thank you for your information/articles on descrimination.. Discrimination is alive and well. The biggest and most unreported type of discrimination is age, gender, and race discrimination. Each time a oerson applies for a job on the internet one category you have to fill out is your birth date. Although, illegal people are being sceened for age, race, gender and God knows what else before they get an opportunity to leveragee their skills and qualifications st an interview. It is sad but true. It will be denied. So, to level the playing field all of this iinformatoin should be removed from the internet application process and anyones ability to discriminate against anyone because of age race or gender.would be eliminated. On another note, Another discrimination tool that is being used is using credit score as a way to determine one’s credibility. Low credit scores are a sign of the times due to loss of emplpyment. And, it is a fact that african americans historically have loweer credit scores. This is just another tool for discrimination. Something needs to be done to commuicate that a low credit score does not necessarily determin a person’s credibility. The establishment has put very tool in the toolbox to find a way to discriminate against people . All, in the name of keeping people down, When will they understand “together we stand, divided we fall” as a country. It is in the best interest of all, the powerful and the powerless for a decent standard of liiving makes life better for all.

  • I too enjoyed the overview of the various cases and conclude that obviously the enforcement of Discrimination Laws is a threat to America’s National Security.
    The reality is, we must respect the fact that the largest and oldest institution in America is the “Institution of Racism”. Conscious has nothing to do with America’s Institution of Racism. Sadly, it is far bigger than the government, church, and American Family. America was founded on the principles of Racism and it is vital to it’s foundation of Freedom with the Democracy to hate and Kill in the spirit of Free Enterprise. All proud Americans must never forget the old proverb “If you live by the sword, you will die by the same sword”. I’m a Black and Proud American, a true veteran of the Civil Rights Movement who will never get caught up in the “Illusion of Inclusion”. In 2010 Jim Crow is alive and well in America, from the Out House to the White House and the many victims of Discrimination are hopeless.
    God Bless all those who are Discriminated in America too!!

  • For the Dec 6 blogger who said “it is a fact that african americans historically have lower credit scores”, I say shame on you. While I can appreciate the sentiment behind your comment, I encourage you to not paint everyone with the same brush. That would be stereotyping which is just as bad as discrimination, in my opinion.

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