Decision by Committee Cannot Overcome Supervisor’s Racist Statements


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (which includes Maryland, North and South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) found that, although the promotion decision in question was made by committee, the decision was nonetheless led – if not controlled – by a racist supervisor.

In Gary v. Facebook, Inc., a Black employee made an internal complaint that he was denied a promotion because of his race. The company investigated and concluded that a white co-worker was promoted because he was better-qualified than the Black employee. Subsequently, another employee complained that the supervisor had made explicitly racists statements. This was confirmed in another investigation, and the supervisor was fired. The Black employee then filed suit for discriminatory non-promotion.

The employer argued that there was no discrimination because the decision was made by committee – not just the racist supervisor. The Fourth Circuit, however, found that the unquestionably-racist supervisor played a significant role in the committee’s decision-making process. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit determined that, because of this and other evidence regarding the employee’s qualifications, the employee’s claim should not have been thrown out by the trial court.

Employers should be warned that a committee decision-making process does not necessarily mean that a racist (or sexist or ageist) supervisor cannot taint the process.