Was "Acting" tag on a title racial discrimination?

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Management ranks aren’t immune to racism in the workplace

“I’ve got good news,” HR director Joe Martini told Barnes Edgerton. “Your promotion has come through.”

“That is good news,” Barnes Edgerton said. “But frankly, it’s about time.”

“Oh, come on,” Joe Martini said. “You know we couldn’t confirm you as department manager while the company was doing all that restructuring. Now that everything has settled down, we can drop the ‘acting’ tag from your title. And I’m personally glad to do it.”

“I was acting manager for 22 months, and watched other people get titles and raises,” Edgerton said. “Barb Cassell and Freddy van den Berg to name two. It was pretty humiliating to do the job without the pay. I got to thinking I was being held back because I’m African American.”

Joe frowned. “Your case was special,” he said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to outsource your department’s functions. Now we’ve decided to keep them in-house, and we need a full-fledged manager.”

No back pay

“You never told me that all the times I asked what was happening with my reclassification,” Barnes said.

“I wasn’t at liberty to,” Joe said. “So, are you going to accept this promotion or argue about supposed racial discrimination in the workplace?”

“Promotion’s always great,” Barnes said. “So I’ll be at Grade 14 on the scale, like Olivia was before me?”

“Well, no,” Joe said. “We thought 13 was appropriate. It’s a nice bump up from 11 where you were.”

“I don’t agree,” Barnes said. “And how about back wages?”

“It’s not part of the deal,” Joe replied.

“That’s unfair,” Barnes Edgerton said. “I’ll sue before I sit still for this.”

Barnes sued for racial discrimination in the workplace. Did he win?

The decision

Yes, Barnes won his racial discrimination lawsuit.

A judge ordered the company to pay him $14,400 in back pay and $22,000 in compensation for emotional damages.

It looked suspicious when several white managers had their titles and salaries upgraded during a period when Joe said the company wasn’t making such substantive personnel decisions.

As for the back pay, the court said requiring Barnes to do a more responsible job without additional money was an “adverse employment action” – like a suspension or termination.

Appropriate pay

The idea that “acting” in a job title could be grounds for racial discrimination lawsuits may be new to some people.

What does it mean for HR? You want to be careful that managers aren’t expecting people to do a job long-term without the salary the job carries with it. If someone is capable of the work, they deserve the title and the pay.

Cite: Ledbetter v. Alltel Corporate Services, Nos. 04-3807/04-3900, 8th Cir., 2/7/06. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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