Court Affirms Half Million Dollar Verdict in Race Discrimination Case

“Despite considerable racial progress, racism persists as an evil to be remedied in our Nation.” These words, penned by Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor, are from an important race discrimination case recently decided by the federal appeals court for Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, in which the court affirmed a verdict of more than half a million dollars to an African-American employee who was fired after he refused to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement. Goldsmith v. Bagby Elevator Co.

Greg Goldsmith was exposed to a stream of severe racist comments and conduct during his employment, and, although he complained about it repeatedly, his employer failed to correct the problem. He filed a charge of race discrimination with the EEOC. While his charge was pending, the company adopted a mandatory arbitration policy that required all employees to arbitrate all discrimination claims, and it presented the policy to all of its employees to sign. Mr. Goldsmith, however, was the only employee who had a pending discrimination charge against the company. When Mr. Goldsmith refused to sign the arbitration agreement, he was immediately discharged, but other employees who had initially refused to sign the agreement were not discharged.

In Mr. Goldsmith’s subsequent race discrimination case, he argued that his discharge was in retaliation for his refusal to sign the arbitration policy. The jury agreed, awarding him $50,000 in back pay and emotional distress damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

On the employer’s appeal, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict, holding that because Goldsmith had agreed to sign the arbitration policy had the company agreed to exclude his pending charge from the policy, and because the company had tried to convince white employees who initially refused to sign the agreement to change their mind, but it simply discharged Goldsmith, there was sufficient evidence of retaliatory animus by the employer to support the verdict.