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One Race-Based Comment Insufficient to Show Pretext and Bias

Micah Stone applied for a promotion to Learning Solutions Consultant (LSC) while employed at  McGraw-Hill Financial, Inc. During the interview he was told that the starting salary for the position was $95,000, but he was offered $85,000. He asked if the lower salary was based on his race (black) and was told, “take it or leave it.” Mr. Stone later learned he was paid less than two of the LSCs in his region, all of whom were white. When he also did not receive a “spot” bonus for temporarily taking on more work, he complained to HR.

Mr. Stone was given a written warning for “Problematic Communications and Working Relationships with Key Collaborators” after his manager received complaints about him from several sales people. She was told that he was arrogant to co-workers, late to meetings, failed to complete trip reports, and used others to complete large projects. Mr. Stone argued that he had good reasons for being late to meetings and had good working relationships. He said that he had overheard his manager say, “I wish I had never hired his black ass.” Other reps testified that the manager seem to be intentionally creating an opportunity for Mr. Stone to be terminated. Mr. Stone was fired.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals could not find support for Mr. Stone’s claims of discrimination under Title VII. With respect to the pay differential, the comparators generally had different backgrounds that justified a higher salary and there was no evidence that the reasons given were pretextual. There was also insufficient evidence of a racial motivation. The one race based comment was not sufficient to create a hostile environment and it seemed the manager favored the other sales reps because she had worked with them previously. Mr. Stone also lacked evidence to suggest that McGraw-Hill’s termination of him was pretextual. Even though he could show that his performance was not substandard, there was no evidence that the manager did not believe his performance was deficient based on reports.