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June 9 — A black electrician for the city of St. Louis who took paid medical leave because of stress caused by a workplace investigation lacks a federal race discrimination claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled ( Jones v. City of St. Louis , 2016 BL 183861, 8th Cir., No. 15-2283, 6/9/16 ).
Denying Keith Jones's appeal from a district court decision for the city, the appeals court rejected the notion that “depletion of his accrued medical leave” could be an “adverse employment action” under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The case illustrates that not every perceived workplace slight or injury an employee experiences will be deemed serious enough to require a jury trial on discrimination.
Instead, the court said the city's approval of Jones's medical leave request and its reinstatement of Jones after his doctor said he could return to work remove any suggestion of adverse action.
The city “provided Jones a favorable employment benefit” that he used, Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote.
Jones didn't contend that taking medical leave is “tantamount to constructive discharge,” nor could he succeed on such a claim under Title VII, the court said. Absent an adverse action, Jones can't satisfy the basic elements of a Title VII claim, the court said.
Jones also alleged the city discriminated after his July 2009 return to work by rating his overall performance as “unsuccessful,” placing him on a performance improvement plan and temporarily reducing his pay.
Jones said the city treated him differently than two similarly situated white employees, who were accused of comparable workplace infractions but weren't disciplined or given unsatisfactory performance ratings.
The district court found the white employees weren't apt comparators because one had engaged in a single workplace failure and the other had repeated failures in the one category of responding to emergency calls. In contrast, the city alleged Jones had repeated failures in five different job performance areas.
Jones failed to show that he and the white employees were “involved in or accused of the same or similar misconduct” but were disciplined in different ways, the Eighth Circuit said.
He therefore can't raise a jury issue of disparate treatment based on race, the court decided.
The district court also properly dismissed Jones's race bias claims based on the city's requiring a fitness-for-duty exam after he had a work-related car accident, temporarily assigning him to a warehouse job and initially rejecting a physician's statement that he could return to his usual job, the Eighth Circuit said.
Judges Michael J. Melloy and Steven M. Colloton joined in the decision.
Melvin L. Raymond in St. Louis represented Jones. The City Counselor's Office represented St. Louis.
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Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Jonesv_City_of_St_Louis_No_152283_2016_BL_183861_8th_Cir_June_09_.
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