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Burlinton Northern and Santa Fe Railway. Co. V. White

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Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White
Legal Analysis
Legal and Ethical Facts
• The plaintiff (White) was hired by Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co. (Defendant) as a track laborer. Having prior experience as a forklift operator, the plaintiff was assigned to operate a forklift once the need arose.
• Although operating a forklift was now the primary duty of the plaintiff, her responsibilities as a track laborer, to a lessor extent, still existed.
• Operating a forklift was viewed as a more prestigious position and as such, a more desirable duty than the dirtier work of track laborer.
• Shortly after assuming her primary duty as forklift operator, the plaintiff’s immediate supervisor made disparaging remarks about her in front of co-workers. The comments centered on the supervisor’s opinion regarding the inappropriateness of having females on the job site.
• The plaintiff filed an internal complaint with Burlington Northern. After an investigation, the plaintiff’s supervisor was suspended for 10 days.
• When the plaintiff was notified of the supervisor’s suspension, she was also informed that she would no longer be operating a forklift and would resume the duties of track laborer full time.
• Within weeks, the plaintiff filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). She believed her reassignment was a form of retaliation for making complaints that led to the suspension of a supervisor.
• A short time after these events, the plaintiff had a disagreement with another supervisor and was suspended from work. She filed a second grievance with the EEOC citing further retaliation.
• Along with the second citing with the EEOC, the plaintiff filed another internal grievance with the defendant and was reinstated to work with back pay (a total of 37 days).
• The plaintiff filed suit in Federal Court. The jury rejected her claims of sex discrimination but awarded her damages of $43,000 on grounds of retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
• The defendant appealed arguing the plaintiff suffered no adverse employment action and as such the suit was frivolous.
• The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals initially agreed. However, the court reheard the case and ruled in favor of the plaintiff on the grounds that adverse employment action did take place.
• The Supreme Court heard the case and eventually ruled in the plaintiff’s favor.

The Key Legal Issues The legal issues are: Is anti-retaliation confined only to the workplace and is there a separate distinction regarding Title VII’s substantive provision and its anti-retaliation provision?
Legal rules that apply in the case In this case, the applicable law pertains to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law forbade employment discrimination that was based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Its anti-retaliation provision forbade discrimination against an employee or job applicant because that individual opposed any practice made unlawful by Title VII ( Case law admitted by the Supreme Court for establishing guidance on the legal issue for purposes of precedence was as follows: Von Gunten v. Maryland 243 F. 3d 858, 866; Robinson v. Pittsburgh 120 F. 3d 1286, 1300; Mattern v. Eastman Koclah Co. 104 F. 3d 702, 707; Manning v. Metropolitan Life Ins Co. 127 F. 3d 658, 662; Washington v. Illinois Dept. of Revenue 420 F. 3d 658, 662; Rochon v. Gonzales 438 F. 3d 1211, 1217-1218; Ray v. Henderson 217 F. 3d 1234, 1242-1243. (
List of Observations The plaintiff was performing a duty considered to be enviable by the standards of her co-workers, hence, if not a promotion, the duty carried prestige in her workplace. Losing this duty was equivalent to a demotion. This implied demotion coincided with the suspension of the plaintiff’s supervisor upon her filed complaint. Case law was split concerning the issue of retaliation. The Sixth Circuit said the plaintiff must show an adverse employment action via a material change in the terms and conditions of employment. The Fifth and Eighth Circuits adopted a more restrictive approach. They employed an ultimate employment standard limiting actionable retaliatory conduct to acts such as hiring, granting leave, discharging, promoting and compensating. The Seventh and the District of Columbia Circuits claimed a plaintiff must show that an employer’s challenged action would have been material to a reasonable employee. The Ninth circuit said adverse treatment is based on a retaliatory motive and is reasonably likely to deter the charging party or others from engaging in protected activity ( The Supreme Court had split rendering s of Title VII. Ultimately, the Court decided that the substantive provision seeks to prevent injury based on who they are, i.e., race, gender, et cetera; and the anti-retaliation provision seeks to prevent harm to individuals based on what they do, their conduct. The Court rejected standards set by the lower courts and ruled that retaliation extends beyond the workplace. The Court cited the changing of a single mother’s work schedule or a supervisor’s refusal to invite an employee to a weekly training lunch as examples. These incidents may seem arbitrary but could constitute as retaliatory behavior (
Legal Conclusions The Supreme Court went against the grain and chose to oppose much of the case law germane to the case. It decided that the substantive provision and the anti-retaliatory provision were to be interpreted independently. Further, it followed the custom of assuming that Congress intended the provisions to be acted on separately due to the different tone and context of the wording in the statute. As such, the Supreme Court ruled correctly on this case.
Ethical Analysis
Key Ethical issue The key ethical issue: is it necessary to punish business for retaliatory behavior and reward the injured party.
Ethical rules that apply to the case Kantian ethics take center stage in this case. Kant’s ethical system is duty based. Simply put, each person has an obligation to treat another in a manner in which he/she would want to be treated. Kant’s categorical imperative claims to due unto others, as you would have done unto yourself (Velasquez pgs. 78-82). This echoes the Judeo Christian values of the Ten Commandments and the Aristotelian virtue ethics expressed in the Golden Rule and is the bedrock of contemporary jurisprudence. Utilitarian ethics might in fact condone the removal of an employee via retaliation if it served the general good. As such, this ethical system allots room for a lot of grey shading and subjectivity.
List of ethical alternatives The ethos of Social Darwinism and its overriding principle of the strongest advancing at the expense of the weakest as the best course of action for an enterprise could be examined as a potential ethical alternative. Many see capitalism as manifesting this temperament and as necessary for economic advancement.
An ethical course of action Social Darwinism, contrary to the belief of some, would create completely unfair advantages and destroy competition leaving in its wake nonfunctioning markets and leaving oligarchy as its legacy. The Supreme Court, in the vein of Kant’s deontology, got this one right both legalistically and ethically. The law does and should exist to protect those incapable of protecting themselves.

Velasquez, M.G. (2006). Business Ethics: concepts and cases (Sixth Edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson / Prentice Hall http:/…...

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