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Friday, March 25, 2016

Old White Alabama Woman Wins Before 11th Circuit


By: Thomas Eden

Valarie Kilgore, a white female age 60, began working as a front-desk agent for Hilton in Trussville, Alabama. In late February 2012, Kilgore asked the General Manager to request that the Housekeeping Manager, a black female, “stop making frequent, derogatory comments” about Kilgore’s age, lack of memory, and hearing. In response, according to court documents, the General Manager laughed and told her, “You are old, Katie. Where’s your sense of humor? Or can’t you remember what that is? You did hear me right?”

Later when Kilgore made a guest check-in suggestion, the General Manager told her he did not care about her suggestions. He then stated, “You’re a stubborn, old woman, who either won’t listen or can’t hear what you’re being told to do. This business between you and the Housekeeping Manager better stop, and stop now; you’ll never win these battles; you’re the wrong color, lady.”

Later when Kilgore confronted the General Manager in his office about a write up she had received, he told her, “Like I’ve said before, Katie, you’re never going to win these battles; you’re the wrong color, and frankly, you’re too old to fight the fight.”

On June 5, 2012, Hilton received a negative survey from a guest who had stayed at the hotel stating, “the front desk staff on her second day was extremely rude and short tempered.” Based on the information provided, they felt certain it was Kilgore.  Management met with Kilgore and terminated her employment. Kilgore objected and requested to view the surveillance tape and to be told what information the guest provided that identified Kilgore as the culpable front-desk agent. They refused to discuss the details of the alleged guest complaint, and Kilgore never was given an opportunity to view the surveillance tape. Kilgore submitted records indicating that she was not working on the date of the guest’s complaint. Kilgore was terminated because of her “continually poor attitude” towards Hilton’s guests.

In her pro-se employment discrimination suit filed in federal court, Kilgore alleged that she was terminated because of her age and her race. In reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Hilton, it found enough evidence to send the case to a jury.  The Court determined there was creditable evidence that the General Manager “told her that she was the “wrong color” and “too old” to win battles with her co-workers, which, in the light most favorable to Kilgore, suggests that she was being treated differently with respect to disciplinary matters and the conditions of her employment than employees who were younger and a different color than Kilgore.”

Common Sense Counsel: a properly documented investigation of allegations of this nature is the only way to head off harassment and discrimination claims. It is critical to train your employees and managers never to use age and race related expressions or stereotyping of employees and your company should not be a courtroom casualty.

Tommy Eden is a partner working out of the Constangy, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, AL and West Point, GA and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at teden@constangy.com or 334-246-2901. Blog at www.alabamaatwork.com