The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today overturned the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant in Burgess v. Bowen, a race discrimination and retaliation case that the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has been litigating with co-counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
Plaintiff Denise Burgess, an African-American woman who worked for the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (“SIGIR”) as Assistant Inspector General for Public Affairs, by all accounts performed in an exemplary fashion, but SIGIR terminated her shortly after she complained about race discrimination and in circumstances in which similarly situated white co-workers were not terminated. We filed a lawsuit on her behalf alleging race discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and during discovery developed substantial evidence that SIGIR’s purported rationale for terminating Burgess – a “reorganization” due to budget constraints – was pretextual. Nevertheless, SIGIR prevailed on its motion for summary judgment, and we appealed. The Fourth Circuit today vacated and remanded the case, holding that the District Court had failed to credit Burgess’ evidence of race discrimination and retaliation. According to Emily B. Read, Director of the Committee’s Equal Employment Opportunity Project, “This is an exciting and gratifying victory not only for Denise Burgess, but for all employment discrimination plaintiffs who have been denied the opportunity to present their claims to a jury.”