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Circuit Court Revives Case with Evidence of Failure to Transfer and Discriminatory Comment

Jerberee Jefferson, an African-American woman, was a full-time probationary clerk working for Sewon America. She aspired to work in the company’s information technology (IT) department. To that end, she approached the IT department manager about working in his department. He purportedly told her that he wanted her to transfer to IT and that he liked her work ethic. Even after not doing very well on a basic computer test, he stated that he wanted her in his department. Around the same time, she was written up for not following company policy when she failed to go to her own department head about the transfer.
Ms. Jefferson did not get the job. The IT manager explained that the open position required “five years of experience” and a higher up manager said he “wanted a Korean in that position.” Upon hearing that, Ms. Jefferson complained to Human Resources. On the same day, she received another negative performance evaluation. She was fired within the week based on the two evaluations.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case after it had been dismissed at the district court level. The circuit court determined that her failure to receive the transfer did amount to an adverse employment action. Her desired position had additional duties and responsibilities, as well as offering her the chance to obtain more education and experience in an area of particular interest to her. Additionally, the comment made about wanting a “Korean” could be considered direct evidence of discriminatory intent. Thus, the district court erred in requiring that she prove pretext, the legal standard for circumstantial evidence. Lastly, the Eleventh Circuit found sufficient evidence that she may have been fired in retaliation for her complaint of discrimination. The timing of her firing along with the company’s deviation from its standard practice were sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.