New Title VII Promotion Discrimination Decision Explores Pretext Analysis

New Title VII Promotion Discrimination Decision Explores Pretext Analysis

McLaughlin v. CSX sheds light on the pretext analysis in the Fourth Circuit

The plaintiff in McLaughlin v. CSX, Michelle McLaughlin, alleged that she was denied a promotion that the company awarded instead to a less-qualified male employee.

The company responded that it did not promote McLaughlin because (1) the other candidate was better qualified; and (2) McLaughlin did not have the required technical knowledge.

Comparing qualifications for the job

As to the better qualifications analysis, the court found that in the Fourth Circuit, an employee must show that their qualifications were “demonstrably” or “discernibly” superior to those of the chosen candidate.  McLaughlin, 2017 WL 2406718, at *4 (citing Heiko v. Colombo Savings Bank, F.S.B., 434 F.3d 249, 261 (4th Cir. 2006)) (emphasis added).

In McLaughlin, the court noted that it did not have the selection criteria used for the promotion decision to review as part of its analysis.  McLaughlin, however, presented the following evidence, which the court deemed sufficient to survive summary judgment:

  • she had greater seniority with the company than the other candidate;

  • the company had trained her; and

  • another employee in the position to which McLaughlin sought to be promoted believed McLaughlin was qualified for the promotion

The court thus determined that a material question of fact exists as to whether McLaughlin was more qualified than the person who received the promotion.

Lack of required technical knowledge

The company also argued that it did not promote McLaughlin because she lacked the necessary technical skills for the job.  McLaughlin, 2017 WL 2406718, at *4.

The Court rejected this argument and found that McLaughlin had presented sufficient evidence related to:

  • she was used as a temporary replacement for the job she to which she sought to be promoted; and

  • the company had never employed a female in the position McLaughlin sought

The judge ultimately found that this disputed fact about whether the company’s claimed reason for denying her a promotion should be decided by a jury.

© 2022 Zuckerman LawNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 157