As we have noted in the past, Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment based on that individual’s race.
To establish a claim, the employee must first establish he or she is in the protected class (in this case, by race). Second, the employee must establish he or she suffered an “adverse” employment action. Typically, but not necessarily, the adverse action is termination.
There are two more elements to the potential claim. The employee must also establish she was qualified for the position. In many cases, the employer’s legitimate business decision for the adverse action defeats this criterion.
The fourth element needed to establish a claim of racial discrimination is evidence that a similarly situated employee, outside of the protected class, was treated more favorably than was the employee in the protected class. Said differently, there must be one or more other employees against which the comparison is made.
In a recent case, the employee failed to establish this fourth element. A black employee was accused of stealing from customers, and was terminated. The employee challenged the termination decision. He clearly met the first two tests: he was in a protected class, and he suffered an adverse employment action.
The court never looked at the third requirement. Rather, the employee was unable to establish the fourth test. He was not able to prove a white employee had also been accused of theft, but had not been fired. Since there wasn’t a similarly situated employee outside of the protected class who was treated differently, the employee’s claim failed.