Anthony Rachells was a top performer at Cingular Wireless. As a National Retail Account Executive in Cingular’s Cleveland region, he received numerous sales awards, consistently exceeded company sales goals by the greatest margin of any of his co-workers, and, in 2003 earned the top performance review among his peers. Yet, when AT&T acquired Cingular in 2004, and eliminated five of the nine employees in Rachells’s position. Rachells received the lowest 2004 performance review score of any candidate, ranked seventh in the overall selection process, and was terminated.
Rachells—who was the only African-American National Retail Account Executive—sued, claiming that his manager (who other testified had a history of discriminating against minorities) included him in the workforce reduction because of his race.
Last week, in Rachells v. Cingular Wireless Employee Services [pdf] [an enhanced version of this opinion is available to lexis.com subscribers], the 6th Circuit concluded that it should be up to a jury to determine whether the decision-making manager singled out Rachells because of his race.
Here, among the Cingular candidates, Rachells was the only person of color and the only individual discharged in the RIF. Given this small sample size of the Cingular candidates, however, this is not sufficient to conclude that Cingular’s actions were racially motivated…. The district court erred in dismissing two other crucial categories of evidence tending to show race-based discrimination: evidence of Rachells’ superior qualifications and evidence of a discriminatory atmosphere at Cingular….
Here are three factors to think about when using subjective criteria (such as rankings) when deciding on who to include in a RIF:
RIFs, done correctly, provide employers wide protections from allegations of discrimination. Done poorly, however, RIFs open employer to widespread claims of discrimination that can prove more difficult to defend than the savings the employer hoped to realize from the layoffs.
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