Appeals Court Affirms Ruling For Defendant in Discrimination Case

The following is not directly related to the accounts receivable management industry, but does underscore the importance of making sure that employees and collectors are not able to use the information they have access to in other jobs that they may have outside of working at a collection agency.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a financial institution that was accused of firing an employee based on her race and gender, in a case involving employees with access to customer’s sensitive personal information who also had second jobs that might capitalize on that access.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Nealy v. SunTrust Banks can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff worked as a processing specialist in the bank’s consumer lending operation while also working as a realtor. In her job at the bank, the plaintiff had access to consumer loan applications and real estate data used in the loan underwriting process. A co-worker of the plaintiff’s, who worked in the same department, sought permission from a supervisor to work a second job as a realtor. The supervisor determined that employees in that department were to be prohibited from maintaining active real estate licenses, given that access to the information in question might further the employees’ real estate activities. The plaintiff did not deactivate her license and was terminated. She sued the defendant, arguing that the termination was based on her race and gender because six other employees — from other departments — were not fired even though they had active real estate licenses and access to the same information.

A District Court judge ruled in favor of the defendant, determining that the comparators used by the plaintiff were not “similarly situated” because they did not work in the same department and did not have the same supervisor as the plaintiff.

The Appeals Court sided with the District Court judge, ruling that working in different departments and for a different supervisor was enough separation that the comparisons made by the plaintiff were insufficient. In this case, even if the comparisons were appropriate, the plaintiff also failed to establish that the comparators she used had access to the same confidential information as the plaintiff, which would kept the plaintiff from meeting her burden of proof, the Appeals Court ruled.

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