Freedom Mortgage Defeats Tardy Employee’s Race Claim

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By Jon Steingart

Freedom Mortgage Corp. prevailed in a claim of race discrimination by a black former broker liaison who said the company disciplined him more harshly than white co-workers for tardiness ( Reed v. Freedom Mortg. Corp. , 2017 BL 299003, 7th Cir., No. 16-3661, 8/25/17 ).

The ruling shows that a claim of discrimination based on a comparison to a co-worker’s discipline requires context so a court can determine whether the colleague actually broke workplace rules. For example, it wasn’t clear that the colleagues Joseph Reed said he observed arriving late were expected to punch in at the same time he was, Judge Ilana D. Rovner wrote Aug. 25 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

There may have been evidence to support Reed’s claim, but his lawyer didn’t follow up when the company objected to his request for information about discipline imposed on co-workers, Rovner said.

Judges Richard A. Posner and Ann C. Williams joined the opinion, which affirms a lower court’s judgment for the company.

“There was no exculpatory evidence to be produced since Plaintiff was in fact singled out, as were two other African American employees,” Frank Andreou, a lawyer who represented Reed, told Bloomberg BNA in an email Aug. 27. “Freedom claims to have terminated Mr. Reed due to a reduction in force but produced zero evidence to support that business had dropped off other than an affidavit rank with hearsay.”

“We believe the Court was clear that Mr. Reed failed his burden of showing that any similarly situated non-African American employee was treated more favorably than he was,” Steve Pearlman, Freedom Mortgage’s attorney, told Bloomberg BNA in an Aug. 28 email. “This is consistent with our position that Mr. Reed received fair treatment.”

Andreou, Luke Casson, and Brittni King with Andreou & Casson Ltd. in Chicago represented Reed.

Pearlman and Edward Young with Proskauer Rose LLP in Chicago represented Freedom Mortgage.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at jsteingart@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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