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Ibrahim v. Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

No. 20-1131.  D.Colo. Judge Bacharach. Employment Discrimination Claim—Title VII—Race Discrimination—Religion Discrimination—Gender Discrimination—Summary Judgment.

April 19, 2021

Plaintiff is a Muslim man of Pakistani descent who served as an executive with defendant. While working for defendant, plaintiff offered to pay for an administrative assistant’s rental car and a few weeks later invited her to see a movie, stating that he didn’t have a significant other. The employee expressed concerns to her supervisor about plaintiff’s conduct, and plaintiff’s supervisor discussed the incident with him. Several weeks later at a reception, plaintiff told a female delegate from the United Kingdom that he got a positive vibe from her and that she was an attractive young female. A United Kingdom consulate official expressed concern to plaintiff’s supervisor about the comments. When plaintiff’s supervisor brought these comments to his attention, plaintiff confirmed that he made the comments and said there was nothing wrong with them. Defendant then terminated plaintiff’s employment.

Plaintiff sued defendant under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act contending that his firing resulted from discrimination based on race, religion, and gender. Defendant prevailed on summary judgment on all of the claims.

On appeal, plaintiff challenged the entry of summary judgment. Because plaintiff relied on circumstantial evidence for his claims, the Tenth Circuit applied the burden-shifting framework under McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), to determine if a factual dispute exists on whether defendant discriminated against plaintiff. To prevail under this inquiry, (1) plaintiff must present a prima facie case of discrimination; (2) if plaintiff makes this showing, the burden shifts to defendant to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the firing; and (3) if defendant provides a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason, the burden reverts to plaintiff to show pretext.

As evidence for his claims, plaintiff cited defendant’s decision to not fire C.B., another male executive accused of sexual harassment. Plaintiff presented evidence that C.B., a white male manager, had yelled at a female subordinate, exchanged sexual text messages with subordinates, and asked a subordinate to run a personal errand during work hours; that C.B. was placed on administrative leave and required to take classes and was not terminated; and that the three individuals who fired plaintiff were involved in the decision to issue only a warning to the white male employee. This is evidence from which a factfinder could reasonably infer race discrimination based on defendant’s treatment of plaintiff.

Further, while defendant fired plaintiff for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason—inappropriate comments to two women—plaintiff rebutted the explanation with evidence of defendant’s greater leniency toward C.B. and inadequacy in defendant’s investigation based on its failure to ask plaintiff why he made the statements or investigate beyond confirming that the statements were made. A factfinder could reasonably regard plaintiff and C.B. as similarly situated, and defendant’s limited investigation suggests pretext. Therefore, plaintiff satisfied his burden to show a prima facie case of race discrimination and pretext.

As to the discrimination claim based on religion, plaintiff did not identify the religion of any comparators or show past complaints of religious discrimination, and he presented no evidence of statements or actions suggesting a negative perception of Muslim employees. As to the gender discrimination claim, plaintiff did not identify a female employee who engaged in similar conduct and obtained better treatment, and he did not present evidence to meet the heightened requirements for discrimination against males. Therefore, plaintiff failed to present a prima facie case for discrimination based on religion or sex.

The award of summary judgment on the race discrimination claim was reversed and the summary judgment award on the religion and gender discrimination claims was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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