Court upholds dismissal of Latino TV producer
The Plaintiff was laid-off by WKAR, the public TV station associated with MSU, in 2003. He filed suit eventually, claiming that his lay-off and the failure to re-hire him were motivated by his ethnicity. The Defendant responded with evidence supporting its claim that the lay-off was a result of budget difficulties and that it did not re-hire Plaintiff later because he was not qualified for the positions available.
The Court was required to address several issues that are germane to discrimination claims. The judges disagreed on whether the plaintiff had met his duty of presenting a prima facie case of discrimination. Two felt that his evidence did not meet this threshold, in part because the one documented discriminatory statement attributed to WKAR management was merely a "stray remark." In order to be evidence of discrimination, rather than a stray remark, the comment must be made by a decision-maker, must be part of a pattern of biased comment (as opposed to an isolated remark), must be contemporaneous with the adverse employment action and must clearly indicate discriminatory bias (i.e, it cannot be made in an ambiguous context). The majority concluded the one remark cited did not meet this four-pronged test as proof of bias.
In any event, all three judges concluded that WKAR had provided ample evidence of genuine budget issues warranting the lay-off in 2003, and that the plaintiff had not met his burden of proving that the legitimate, non-discriminatory reason justifying the adverse employment action in 2003 was a mere pretext.
With regard to the failure to re-hire, all three judges agreed that the defendant had also documented a sound business basis for failing to re-hire the Plaintiff for a job in radio production. The Plaintiff offered evidence that WKAR resumed its "Latinos in Lansing" programming by outsourcing production, alleging that it did not thereby save the costs it claimed, however, the Court noted that the Plaintiff's proferred proof did not thoroughly address the relative costs of Plaintiff's employment when compared with the shared cost of outside production for several stations. In addition, the judges concluded that there were substantive inadequacies in Plaintiff's resume which justified failing to hire him for the desired position.