Golf Course Superintendent Loses Appeal of Race Discrimination Complaint

Aug 13, 2004

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of a district court, finding that a golf course superintendent failed to show that his employer, American Golf Corporation, fired him because he is African American.
Sean Brown was a superintendent of Keney Golf Course, a property of AGC. Brown allegedly came into disfavor at the company when he failed to apply a certain chemical before the first snow fall to prevent the facility’s greens from developing snow mold. He also used a dump truck to remove the snow from the greens, against the instructions of his supervisor.
After the above incidents, AGC placed Brown in the “Performance Improvement Plan” and ultimately terminated him in January 1998.
Brown sued, claiming that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et. seq. as well as that he was subjected to a hostile work environment and retaliation in violation of Title VII. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on all claims, spawning Brown’s appeal.
In reviewing the case the 2nd Circuit reviewed the district court’s finding that Brown had established a prima facie case, but failed to present sufficient evidence to show that AGC’s asserted reason for firing him was pretext for race discrimination.
In support of his claim that the above reasons were a pretext for race discrimination, Brown argued that a white superintendent at another golf course owned by AGC also failed to apply the chemical, but was not fired. That superintendent, however, did not drive a dump truck onto the greens.
Another flaw in Brown’s case, held the appeals court, was that being placed was not an adverse employment action.
Under the plan, Brown was instructed “to attend several seminars, read certain materials, implement ways to reward his co-workers, review and follow a business plan, conduct weekly staff meetings, and implement certain planning and scheduling mechanisms,” according to the appeals court.
“A plaintiff sustains an adverse employment action if he or she endures a ‘materially adverse change’ in the terms and conditions of employment.” Galabya v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., 202 F.3d 636, 640 (2d Cir. 2000). “To be ‘materially adverse’ a change in working conditions must be ‘more disruptive than a mere inconvenience or an alteration of job responsibilities.’” Id. (quoting Crady v. Liberty Nat’l Bank and Trust Co., 993 F.2d 132, 136 (7th Cir. 1993)).
“We conclude that being instructed to follow the requirements of the Performance Improvement Plan did not constitute an adverse employment action and therefore Brown has failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation.”
Brown v. American Golf Corp., 2nd Cir., No. 03-7632, 6/2/04
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) Eroll V. Skyers, The Barrister Law Group, LLC, Bridgeport, CT. (for defendant) Deborah S. Freeman, Bingham McCutchen LLP, Hartford, CT.


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