March 8, 2016

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a white construction worker who said he was laid off from a Missouri project because it wasn’t meeting its labor contract’s federally mandated minority-hiring goal can take his claims to trial.

On February 3, 2016, the 7th Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment on a white construction worker’s claims for reverse racial discrimination under Title VII and Section 1981.  Title VII’s prohibition against racial discrimination includes reverse discrimination.  See Deets v. Massman Construction Company, et al., No. 15-1411 (7th Cir., 2/3/2016). 

Massman Construction Company (MTA) had bid on and was awarded a contract from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT) to build a bridge across the Mississippi River.  The bridge project received federal funding assistance requiring MTA to meet federally mandated goals for employment participation by women (6.9%) and minorities (14.7%).

Mr. Deets, a white man, was hired as a crane operator on the bridge project. Within months of being hired he was laid off.  He claims when he asked the project superintendent why he was being laid off, the superintendent told him that his “minority numbers” weren’t right; “I’m supposed to have 13.9 percent minorities on this job and I’ve only got 8 percent.”  Later on the day of his lay-off, another superintendent stated to Mr. Deets that he was “sorry to hear about this minority thing.”  Another crane operator swore in an affidavit that the project superintendent told him that he “would have to terminate [Mr. Deets’] 40-hour-minimum work week because there was an insufficient number of non-white workers at the Worksite.”

The superintendent filled the position by hiring a racial minority the day after he terminated Mr. Deets.  The superintendent admitted that replacing a white worker with a minority worker so that the company could meet its minority participation goals would violate the affirmative-action plan and equal-employment opportunity policy. 

The 7th Circuit held that the superintendent’s statement was direct evidence of discrimination and that the statement could be seen as an admission that Mr. Deets was being fired because it would improve the minority participation rate.  Thus, there was sufficient direct evidence that Mr. Deets was laid off because of his race, and the case could advance to trial.


  • Remember that reverse discrimination is prohibited by federal law.
  • Employers should not use a desire to meet minority hiring goals as a basis for an employment decision.

Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.