Sixth Circuit - No Causation or Pretext in Retaliation Case

Tennessee Federal District Court Update

Sixth Circuit – No Causation or Pretext in Retaliation Case

In Kenney v. Aspen Technologies (No. 19-1027, 6th Cir., 7/6/2020), the plaintiff, a production manager, alleged under both Title VII and Michigan’s Elliott-Larson Civil Rights Act, that the employer discharged her in retaliation for her complaints regarding the employer’s alleged discriminatory hiring practices. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer, finding that Kenney failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. The 6th Circuit affirmed.
The court determined the viability of Kenney’s claim turned on causation: Whether the protected activity was the but-for cause of the adverse employment action and the context in which that action occurred. The court noted that a 75-day delay between her protected activity and an adverse employment action was not, standing alone, a convincing case for proving causation. As Kenney was unable to provide other indicia to support a causal connection, the court found her theory unconvincing.
Additionally, the court held Kenney was unable to establish pretext. The employer produced an above-board reason for discharging her, i.e., the attrition rate of employees doubled under her supervision, during a time when the employer needed to increase its workforce to keep up with its contracts. Because Kenney did not dispute the attrition rate or the serious trouble hiring and retaining employees, the court concluded the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment to the employer.

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