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Being Called a Racist is Not Race Discrimination

An employee fired months after returning from Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and who believed he had been accused of being a racist could not sustain causes of action for violation of FMLA or race discrimination according to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) employed Sandra Lovelace as a medical assistant for approximately 12 years. About a year before her termination, Lovelace became a “floater” working with different teams of doctors. She took FMLA leave for back pain. When she returned on March 4th, she began working with a particular team. This team complained about her work performance, specifically that she “would refuse to do tasks, sometimes stating that she did not know how to do them.” In April, performance issues were discussed with Lovelace and then in July, her supervisors discussed her in a meeting. Lovelace allegedly stated that a black co-worker did not want to work with white people. When Lovelace was asked about it, she denied the comment and accused the supervisor of branding her a racist. She complained to HR about being called racist and being retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. Following an additional discussion with her about her work performance where she became very upset and had what was described as an “outburst” at work, she was terminated.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Lovelace’s case in its entirety. Her termination several months after taking FMLA leave made finding temporal proximity difficult and she had nothing else to establish causation. She had no evidence that her performance issues were not genuine and it was her post-meeting outburst that resulted in her termination. Moreover, being called a racist is not race discrimination. “While falsely accusing someone of being a racist is morally wrong’ such accusations cannot form the basis of [state] racial discrimination claim.” Lovelace acknowledged that she had never heard any negative comments about her own race or ethnicity.