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Court reverses itself and holds that use of term “boy” was evidence of race discrimination

Last year, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta held that no jury could reasonably find that a Tyson Foods manager harbored racial animus against an African American man, John Hithon, even though he referred to Hithon as “boy.” The court’s ruling followed a 2006 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in which the high court rejected the Eleventh Circuit’s holding that the use of the term “boy” alone, without a modifier like “black,” is not evidence of race discrimination. Despite the Supreme Court’s rebuke, the Eleventh Circuit continued to hold that the manager’s use of the term “boy” did not evidence race discrimination.

Following the Eleventh Circuit’s decision last year, Hithon’s attorneys petitioned for a full or “en banc” hearing before the entire Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, instead of just the three judge panel that decided the case. A group of civil rights leaders filed a brief in support of the plaintiff, too. Bowing to this pressure, the three judge panel decided to reverse itself. On December 16, 2011, the three judge panel held that the use of the term “boy,” among other pieces of evidence, could permit a reasonable jury to find that the manager discriminated against Hithon because of his race.

Stephen B. Bright, the president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said that this about face from the court demonstrates “how judges manipulate facts and law to make a case come out the way they want it to.” “The new opinion flatly contradicts the first one in several places,” Mr. Bright said.

This case is an example of the long and uphill battle that many victims of employment discrimination must go through in order to stand up for their rights. If you are a victim of employment discrimination, you should seek out an experienced competent attorney to help you fight this long uphill battle.

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