Diversity training is proper remedial action to avoid Title VII liability says 5th Circuit.


Williams-Boldware v. Denton County, Texas No. 13-40044

(5th Cir. January 31, 2014).

This is a hostile work environment case where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a judgment and dismissed the discrimination claims of an African-American Assistant District Attorney.

Williams-Boldware was a misdemeanor prosecutor and had a discussion with a Caucasian co-worker (Cary) about a case involving an African-American defendant.  The defendant had issued several racial slurs to officers and Cary responded with several derogatory comments which Williams-Boldware took offense. The incident was reported to Cary’s supervisors and he was reprimanded and had to attend diversity training.  He apologized, but Williams-Boldware did not feel the apology was genuine. Afterwards, Williams-Boldware listed several incidents where she believed Cary was taunting her, including her belief that his reference to the need for a “boombox” for us at trial implicitly referenced the African American culture.  She also noted that another co-worker called her at trouble-maker.  These three incidents were the sum of incidents she believed were racially motivated. She did not believe the DA’s Office took the complaints seriously enough, so she sued under Title VII.  She also sued the individual co-workers, but those claims were dismissed by the court prior to trial. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams-Boldware. The County appealed asserting the incidents do not amount to a hostile work environment as a matter of law and insufficient evidence was present to tie any comments to her mental pain and suffering.

The 5th Circuit held the reprimand and diversity training were sufficient prompt remedial actions to entitle the County to its defense as a matter of law. The court specifically held that although it was not deciding whether the conduct was severe enough or not to qualify under the law, the remedial action was sufficient given the severity of the offensive conduct. Further, Williams-Boldware did not present evidence that any racially motivated actions persisted after training. The court then held that even after ordered to plead facts to support individual liability (a failure to promote being the only plausible one possible), Williams-Boldware was unable to do so and the dismissal of the individual defendants on qualified immunity grounds was therefore proper.

If you would like to read this opinion click here.  Panel: Chief Judge Steward, Justices Jolly and Smith.  Opinion by Chief Judge Stewart. Attorney for Appellant is listed as Sidney Katherine Powell; Attorney for Appellee is listed as William Edward Trantham.

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