Chris Lazarini | Contributing Legal Editor | Securities Litigation CommentatorBass, Berry & Sims attorney Chris Lazarini commented on a case in which a former financial advisor of JPMS claimed his employment was terminated based on racial discrimination. Through application of the three-part burden shifting analysis developed in McDonnell Douglas Corp. V. Green, the court found no evidence of discrimination and upheld the termination due to the financial advisor’s violation of the company’s document integrity policies and not his race.

Chris provided the analysis for Securities Litigation Commentator (SLC). The full text of the analysis is below and used with permission from the publication. If you would like to receive additional content from the SLC, please visit the SLC website to sign up for the newsletter.

Carpenter vs. J.P. Morgan Securities, LLC, No. 4:15CV2584 (N.D. Ohio, 7/5/17)

*Unlawful discrimination may be shown by direct or circumstantial evidence.

**Direct evidence of discrimination is evidence that, if believed, requires the conclusion that unlawful discrimination was the motivating factor in the employer’s actions.

***Circumstantial evidence of discrimination is that which does not on its face show discriminatory animus, but which allows a factfinder to draw a reasonable inference that discrimination occurred.

Plaintiff is an African-American financial advisor. Several years after joining JPMS, he asked that his coverage area be expanded to include locations he perceived to be more affluent than his home branch. His request was denied. A week later, his supervisor told him to cover a branch which Plaintiff considered less desirable than those he had requested. Plaintiff claims that when he questioned the assignment, his supervisor screamed at him, saying he was not “cut out” for the business and should resign. The next month, JPMS terminated Plaintiff after the firm discovered that Plaintiff submitted multiple commission disclosure forms with cut and pasted client signatures. Plaintiff’s position was then filled by a white male. Plaintiff exhausted his remedies before the EEOC and this racial discrimination suit followed.

The Court grants summary judgment for JPMS. First, the Court finds no direct evidence of discrimination. At the summary judgment stage, a plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that race was the “but-for” cause of the termination. The Court concludes that Plaintiff did not meet this burden because his evidence was purely anecdotal and conclusory. Next, the Court conducts the three-part burden shifting analysis developed in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973), in which Plaintiff must first make a prima facie case that he is a member of a protected group, that he was subjected to an adverse employment decision, that he was qualified for his position, and that he was replaced by a person outside of the protected class. The parties agreed that Plaintiff met that initial burden, shifting the burden to JPMS to show a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the termination. The Court concludes that JPMS met its burden because Claimant’s submission of copied and pasted client signatures violated JPMS’ document integrity policies.

The burden then shifts back to Plaintiff to show that the non-discriminatory reason for termination was a pretext. To do this, the Court explains, Plaintiff must demonstrate either that JPMS’ reason for terminating him had no basis in fact, that his actions did not warrant termination or that his actions were not the true motivating factor behind the termination. Because Plaintiff admitted to submitting false documentation, the Court finds a factual basis for the termination. The Court also finds termination warranted because JPMS had terminated other employees who similarly violated the document integrity policies. Citing the denial of his request to cover more affluent branches and his supervisor’s conduct, Plaintiff argued that the weight of the evidence made it more likely than not that JPMS’ actions were motivated by discrimination. The Court disagrees, finding no statistics supporting the relative affluence of the various branches and no racial context to the supervisor’s statements.