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“Fractioning” An Employee’s Job Does Not Bypass Discrimination Liability

Carolyn Spears taught at Louisiana College (LC) as a tenured professor. She voluntarily transitioned from a tenured professor to work under an annual contract. Spears alleges that after undergoing significant cancer treatment on and off over a period of four years, LC harassed her to induce her retirement after she filed complaints against it. LC reorganized its departments, placing Spears in a lower position with reduced pay. The parties dispute whether Spears gave notice she would not be returning following sick leave, with Spears saying she did intend to come back. Spears alleges LC replaced her with younger teachers.

The federal district court dismissed Spears' claims because LC spread her courses to be taught among several professors, which it said did not "constitute replacement." To prove discrimination, Spears must show LC replaced her with individuals outside her protected class. Thus, the lower court said LC had not discriminated against Spears. However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case on appeal and concluded, "Employers may not circumvent Title VII protections by 'fractioning' an employee's job." Spears argued the female instructor that replaced her as chair and the male instructor who took over her classes were younger than her. She alleged age and sex discrimination. The appellate court stated there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Spears told LC she would not be returning or it was a pretext put forth by LC. These claims, as well as her disability discrimination and retaliation claims, were sent back to the lower court for further proceedings.