FedEx Must Defend Manager’s Sex Discrimination Claims

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By John McCoy

FedEx Corp. must defend against a senior manager’s claims of sex discrimination, but not her retaliation charge, a federal district court ruled March 8.

The court’s finding was somewhat atypical. More often than not when a court allows certain employment-related claims to proceed, it’s the retaliation charge that survives and the discrimination claim that is defeated.

Christi Free, a senior manager of hub operations, sued the shipping giant, saying it used gender as a criteria for advancement, and retaliated against her when she called the company out for it. Free filed an internal grievance alleging sex discrimination, the complaint said. Some of the FedEx employees interviewing her for the promotion were aware of the grievance, and it was a factor in her being passed over, it said.

Free, on three separate occasions, had applied for the Global Operations Control manager positions, each of which resulted in the selection of another candidate, the lawsuit said. After she interviewed for the position a fourth time, Free believed the grievance had influenced the hiring procedure, evidenced by questions like “why would you want to be part of the all-male environment over here at GOC?” and an alleged remark from Paul Tronsor, the vice president of GOC, in which he told the hiring manager not to hire Free, the lawsuit said.

While the court found a basis for the gender discrimination claim, Free’s retaliation claim was denied. Free’s fourth time being passed over for the position was less likely in response to the internal complaint and more based on the same criteria used in the previous decisions, the court said.

The court denied Free’s request for punitive damages, stating that “although Defendant’s employees may have discriminated against Plaintiff, Defendant did not act in reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s rights under Title VII” of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The case is Free v. Fed. Express Corp., W.D. Tenn., No. 2:15-cv-02404-SHM-tmp, summary judgment granted 3/7/18.

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