Laid-Off White Worker Loses Race Bias Bid

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By Lisa Nagele-Piazza

May 27 — A white human resources coordinator can't proceed with her claim that she was laid off instead of a black employee with less seniority because of race, a federal judge in Michigan ruled ( Roschival v. Gavulic , 2016 BL 168401, E.D. Mich., No. 2:15-cv-10182, 5/26/16 ).

Ordinarily to establish a race discrimination claim, an employee must first show membership in a protected category. However, this case points to controlling precedent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit requiring an employee asserting reverse discrimination to also show that the employer discriminates against the majority.

But even assuming Nancy Roschival established a prima facie case of race discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983), she didn't show that Hurley Medical Center's purported reason for terminating her employment during a reorganization was a pretext for race discrimination, Judge Laurie J. Michelson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan said in granting summary judgment to Hurley and chief executive officer Melany Gavulic.

Roschival failed to show she was entitled to “bump” junior co-worker Jamal Dozier under the employee handbook's layoff procedures, the court said.

Although the two employees had similar job titles, the evidence shows they had different job duties and that Dozier wasn't connected to Roschival's eliminated department, the court said.

Seniority Rights Asserted

Roschival began working in human resources for Hurley in 1995 and she was primarily responsible for processing workers' compensation claims, according to the court.

CEO Gavulic terminated Roschival in 2014 when her department was completely closed and much of her work was absorbed by a third-party administrator.

In a January 2015 lawsuit, Roschival claimed Gavulic failed to follow the medical center's layoff procedures.

Roschival said she was entitled to “bump” Dozier, another HR coordinator with less seniority. But Gavulic retained Dozier because he's black, she alleged.

Gavulic maintained that Roschival didn't have any bumping rights because Dozier's job—although similar in title—wasn't in the same category.

Roschival offered the testimony of a former human resources employee who claimed the medical center generally gave “special preference” to black employees during layoffs.

But “Roschival offers what amounts to little more than a conclusory, unsupported assertion that a discriminatory atmosphere existed at Hurley at some unspecified time, but clearly before Gavulic became CEO,” the court said.

No Pretext Shown

Gavulic provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Roschival, the court said.

Her entire department was eliminated and her workers' compensation duties were transferred to a third-party administrator, it said.

There isn't any evidence that Dozier's job was connected to that department or that he was responsible for any workers' compensation processing, the court said.

Roschival pointed to evidence that Gavulic said she didn't want Dozier to be laid off.

But Roschival ignored evidence that the CEO said she didn't want “anyone” to be laid off, the court said.

“Thus, this testimony does not support a reasonable inference that Gavulic specifically targeted Roschival for termination,” the court said.

Roschival didn't point to sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that Gavulic selected her for the layoff based on unlawful race discrimination, the court held.

Law Office of Glen N. Lenhoff represented Roschival. Williams Firm and Edmunds Law represented Hurley.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Nagele-Piazza in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at