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Employer Granted Leeway in White Discrimination Case

James McDaniel was a 25-year employee of Amtrak. When his position was eliminated during a restructuring, he applied for the route director position. He believed that his old job duties were transferred to this position. At the time of his application, Mr. McDaniel was a white male who was 58 years old. The woman selected for the route director job was a 41-year-old African-American woman. Mr. McDaniel applied for six other jobs but was rejected for all of them. He filed suit, alleging race, gender and age discrimination.

Mr. McDaniel met the initial elements essential to making claims of age, race and gender discrimination. He was a member of those protected groups, not hired, qualified for the position, and someone outside of his protected group was hired. In response, Amtrak asserted that the woman they hired had a strong work ethic, strong leadership skills, had a good interview, and good management experience. The company stated that Mr. McDaniel had a poor interview and a “lacking” leadership style. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found each of Amtrak’s proffered reasons to be legitimate and non-discriminatory.

In response, Mr. McDaniel argued that these reasons were a pretext for discrimination. To show this pretext, he argued that he was more qualified. Per the appellate court, he had to show that he was “clearly better qualified,” a higher standard. The judiciary was not intended to second-guess business decisions. Amtrak was able to demonstrate that while Mr. McDaniel had more years of experience, the woman they hired was not “clearly inferior.” She had advanced degrees that were accomplished while working full time, which showed a strong work ethic and the ability to manage many responsibilities. The employer had articulated a reasonable basis for making the choice.