“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 Sixth Circuit judge Joan Larsen, joined by Trump judge John Nalbandian, affirmed a grant of summary judgment against a Black man who contended that the Toledo fire department discriminatorily denied him a job as a firefighter, despite evidence that a jury could have found warranted a verdict in his favor. The September 2021 decision was in Smith v City of Toledo.
Major Smith, an African-American man, was in training to become a firefighter for the City of Toledo. He was dismissed from the training academy, however, because of the claim that he could not perform the “critical firefighting skill” of cutting a hole in a roof with a chainsaw. Even though he tried nine times. Smith contended that he never received proper training and the test was administered in an unfair manner, and a respected battalion chief testified that the training and tests were so inadequate that they “set Smith up to fail.” Smith filed a job discrimination suit against the fire department, and also produced evidence that a fire chief stated that Smith’s “termination was racially motivated” and that since 2014, “80% of the recruits who were dismissed from the Academy were African-American,” even though only “a minority” of recruits were Black. The district court nevertheless granted summary judgment to the fire department based on the test results, and Smith appealed.
Trump judge Larsen, joined by Trump judge Nalbandian, wrote a 2-1 ruling affirming the lower court. Although acknowledging the evidence that Smith presented, the majority ruled that it was insufficient to demonstrate discrimination because it did not specifically show that Smith’s “testing and training conditions were materially different (and worse) than” those of other recruits, particularly white recruits. Based on its view of the test results and other evidence, the majority concluded that the judgment against Smith should be affirmed.
Judge Helene White, who was nominated by President George W Bush, firmly dissented. She explained that it should have been up to a jury to decide whether Smith’s evidence that he was treated differently and worse than other recruits was sufficient, and it was wrong for the majority to “summarily cast aside” this proof based on its view of the evidence. Viewed objectively, she wrote, there was clearly a “genuine dispute of material fact” about whether the city “dismissed Smith from the academy because of his race,” particularly in light of the evidence from the fire chief and the battalion chief. Summary judgment in favor of the city should have been reversed, she concluded, and Smith should have had a chance to present his discrimination claims to a jury.
As a result of the ruling by Trump judges Larsen and Nalbandian, however, Smith will never have the opportunity to prove his job discrimination claims to a jury. The case is yet another example of the significance of rapidly confirming Biden federal judicial nominees who will respect the importance of providing an opportunity to people who raise claims of job discrimination to prove such claims to a jury.