By Marjorie Johnson, J.D.
An African-American caseworker who alleged she was attacked by a violent client after her supervisor intentionally placed them together as part of a “perfect plan” to ensure the “racist” client would quit plausibly alleged race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981 and Title VII, a federal district court in Missouri ruled. However, her claims of negligent hiring, training, and supervision were dismissed with prejudice (Lambert v. New Horizons Community Support Services, Inc.
, April 18, 2016, Laughrey, N.).
The caseworker for a nonprofit organization that provides services to mentally and physically disabled individuals claimed she suffered injury and monetary damages after she was attacked by a client with known violent propensities. Her supervisor purportedly directed her to begin working with the client—who had threatened caseworkers and used racial epithets to describe African-Americans—in hopes that the client would leave the program if she was paired up with a black caretaker. The supervisor allegedly said she had come up with the “perfect plan” to place the client with the employee so she would quit because she was “so racist.”
The employee alleged that in assigning her a client who displayed racial animus against African-Americans, her employer violated Title VII and Section 1981 by basing this decision on racial grounds and placing her in danger based on race. Thus, she did not argue a change in salary, benefits, or job responsibilities, but instead that she was assigned to work with a client who was known to threaten caseworkers, refer to African Americans as “n**gers,” and be violent. Moreover, she was given the assignment without having been informed of the client’s past actions and threats.
Although her allegations were different from most bias claims, she plausibly alleged she suffered an adverse tangible job action. The court relied on the Eighth Circuit’s decision in Wedow v. City of Kansas City, Mo.
, upholding a jury verdict in favor of two female firefighters who brought claims of gender bias after suffering injuries as a result of their employer’s requirement that they wear ill-fitting male firefighting clothing. They demonstrated that the terms and conditions of their employment were affected by a lack of adequate protective clothing and private, sanitary shower and restroom facilities because these conditions jeopardized their ability to perform the core functions of their job “in a safe and efficient manner.”
In light of Wedow
, the employee’s bias claims were plausible since she alleged that her employer intentionally placed her in a dangerous situation: working with the client without informing her of the danger or adequately protecting her to prevent the injury and monetary losses. At this early stage in the proceedings, her allegations were sufficient to demonstrate conditions that may have jeopardized her ability to perform her job in a safe and efficient manner. Moreover, she might also be able to demonstrate that an essential term and condition of her employment is being provided with the known scope of information on clients, particularly where the known characteristics of a client may threaten an employee’s safety.
Inference of bias.
She also alleged circumstances from which an inference of bias could be plausibly inferred. Her allegation that her supervisor placed her with a dangerous client specifically because of her race offered a clear causal link between her race and her supervisor’s decision. It also suggested that she was treated differently from other races of employees because she was black. Moreover, it was her supervisor’s decision to assign her to the client that resulted in her alleged injury. Thus, discrimination could be inferred from the causal connection between her supervisor’s alleged statement, the employee’s assignment to the violent client, and the employee’s alleged injury.
Negligence claims tossed.
The court, however, dismissed the employee’s claims for negligent hiring, supervision, and training. In her negligent hiring claim, she asserted that her employer failed to adequately investigate the background and abilities of its supervisors. However, she did not allege that her supervisor committed any prior acts of misconduct, arguing only that she “exemplified the dangerous proclivity of the continued inattention to and a denial of the gravity of [the client’s] previous violent behavior, despite being so informed by other employees.” While this statement suggested that the employer and supervisor may have known about the client’s violent nature, it did not allege any preexisting dangerous proclivity exhibited by the supervisor herself.
The caseworker’s negligent supervision claim similarly asserted that her employer failed to provide the necessary supervision over her supervisor. As with her negligent hiring claim, she was required to allege that past acts should have led the employer to foresee the supervisor’s conduct. However, as indicated above, she did not allege that the employer had any reason to foresee her supervisor’s actions. Finally, her negligent training claim was tossed since she failed to offer specific facts regarding the training, or lack thereof, that her supervisor purportedly received or failed to receive.