Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

PETITIONER: Anthony Ash et al.
RESPONDENT: Tyson Foods, Inc.
LOCATION: Board of Immigration Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 05-379
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 546 US 454 (2006)
DECIDED: Feb 21, 2006

Facts of the case

Ash, an African American and an employee at a Tyson Foods poultry plant, was passed over for a promotion and sued the company for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A jury found for Ash and awarded damages, but the District Court granted Tyson's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and ordered a new trial. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court's order, finding that the evidence presented by Ash was insufficient to support the damages awarded. Tyson claimed that Ash had been passed over for a more qualified employee, and in response Ash introduced evidence of his own superior qualifications in order to show that Tyson's reason was merely a pretext. The Circuit Court held that Ash's evidence did not meet the standard for establishing pretext: the disparity in qualifications needed to be "so apparent as virtually to jump off the page and slap you in the face." In the course of its opinion, the Eleventh Circuit also held that the Tyson plant manager's use of the word "boy" to refer to Ash was not evidence of racial animus, because it was never coupled with racial classifications.

Question

(1) Did the Circuit Court use the proper standard of evidence for establishing that an employer's asserted nondiscriminatory reason for a hiring decision is pretextual? (2) Can an employer's use of the word "boy" to refer to an employee ever be evidence of racial animus?