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“Unreasonable” Basis for Termination Moves Washington Post Race Case Forward

David DeJesus sold advertising space for the Washington Post for over 18 years, until he was fired. Mr. DeJesus has asserted that the reason for his termination was a pretext for race and age discrimination.

It began with his selling of a full-page ad to Allstate Insurance. The ad was about the dangers of texting while driving. After it began running in the paper, Allstate asked whether it was effective. So, Mr. DeJesus requested an ad study, which was completed and then delivered to Mr. DeJesus along with his supervisor. Noelle Wainwright, the supervisor, was unhappy that the study was done without going through her first. Mr. DeJesus apologized and Ms. Wainright responded, “No worries. Good story on the results.” Per Ms. Wainwright’s instructions, Mr. DeJesus delivered the results personally to the client. According to Ms. Wainwright, Mr. DeJesus did not present the study to the correct executive. Within a few days, Mr. DeJesus was told he was no longer a “good fit” for the Post and was offered a severance package. The stated reason for termination was “willful neglect of duty and insubordination.”

The District of Columbia Circuit Court found that Mr. DeJesus presented sufficient evidence that a jury might conclude that the Post’s stated reasons were not the real reason. In addition to assuring him the study was fine, there was evidence of Ms. Wainwright’s alleged condescending and dismissive attitude toward black employees and clients. There was also testimony that other employees were forced out because of age. The court noted that a jury may find that Ms. Wainwright’s interpretation of events was so unreasonable given the situation that it was not the actual reason for termination.