“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Eleventh Circuit judge Britt Grant wrote a 2-1 decision affirming the dismissal on summary judgment without trial, of a Black woman’s retaliation complaint when she was fired two days after she complained that she was being discriminated against by her boss because of her race and sex. The May 2020 decision was in Martin v. Financial Asset Management Systems, Inc.
Belinda Martin, an African American woman, began work in 2009 as an operations manager at Financial Asset Management Systems (FAMS), a debt collection agency. She was supervised by company president Jerry Hogan, who promoted her to director of operations in 2010.
In 2012, Martin filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, contending that Hogan was discriminating against her based on race and sex. In contrast to how he behaved when dealing with her white male coworkers, she contended, Hogan would “scream profanities, kick chairs, throw bottles, and bang on the table” during feedback sessions with her. The dispute was settled around the end of the year.
In February 2014, Martin, Hogan, and several others participated in an executive staff meeting. Martin explained that during the meeting, Hogan “screamed, yelled” and “belittled” her in front of her peers “for the thousandth time in reference to nothing.” Martin left the room in tears and emailed the company’s vice president of human resources, Lida Bayne, asking to talk.
While Martin was waiting for Bayne, Hogan tried to call her, but she did not pick up. When Bayne came in, Martin told her that she wanted to file a “complaint” against Hogan because he “targets” her “as a black female,” and he did not so target white male coworkers. (Bayne later maintained that Martin did not specifically mention race or sex). Bayne emailed Hogan to say that Martin was planning to take a few days off, that she was “visibly upset,” and that she felt “targeted” by Hogan.
Two days after Martin’s meeting with Bayne, Hogan fired her, claiming that it was because Martin did not answer his call after the disruptive meeting. Martin sued Hogan and FAMS for violating Title VII by firing her in retaliation for her complaints. After discovery, the district court granted summary judgment against Martin and dismissed her case.
On appeal, Trump judge Grant wrote a 2-1 opinion affirming the decision. Grant’s ruling claimed that there was not “any evidence” that Hogan “knew about her discrimination complaints before he fired her.”
Although he agreed that another one of Martin’s claims, which was based on the Family and Medical Leave Act, was properly dismissed, Judge Adalberto Jordan strongly dissented from Grant’s ruling on the Title VII retaliation claim. Contrary to Grant’s assertion that there was no evidence, Jordan explained that Martin had “presented evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that Mr. Hogan had knowledge of her discrimination complaint before he terminated her employment.”
Specifically, Jordan went on, the “key evidence” was that Bayne had sent Hogan an email stating that Martin complained she was being “targeted” by him. The fact that the email did not contain “the magic words” that she felt targeted because of race and gender did not matter, Jordan stated. Given that Hogan clearly knew that Martin had filed a charge against him for race and gender discrimination 16 months earlier, Jordan elaborated, a “reasonable jury could infer that he knew from this email that Ms. Martin had once again complained about him targeting her based on her race or gender.” Indeed, Jordan pointedly noted, “what else could Ms. Martin have meant” when she complained, as Hogan was told, that she was being “targeted” by him. Jordan concluded that the case should have gone to a jury to decide, and the summary judgment decision should have been reversed.
As a result of Grant’s ruling, however Belinda Martin will not even have the opportunity to have a jury decide whether her boss improperly fired her in retaliation for raising race and sex discrimination complaints, in violation of Title VII.