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Bentonville Case Reflects Wave of Suits By White Men

3 min read

A Benton County man who claimed he lost his job because he was male and not Jewish recently lost his case in federal appeals court, but his allegations reflect a growing trend of white men suing employers for discrimination.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected Aaron Rooney’s claims against Rock-Tenn Converting Co., a packaging and retail display manufacturer now known as WestRock Co. of Atlanta. Nevertheless, the case illustrates a legal turnabout.

“Historically you saw cases brought by the minority population, and today you see more by the majority side based on the same legal theory,” said attorney Marshall Ney of the Rogers office of Friday Eldredge & Clark, who represented Rock-Tenn. His practice area includes employment claims.

A former Google senior software engineer who was fired in August for distributing a memo questioning the company’s diversity and inclusion statements filed a class-action suit this month in a California alleging that Google discriminates against white men.

More lawsuits by white males alleging discrimination by their companies are likely to be coming, said Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity of Falls Church, Virginia, which calls itself the country’s only conservative think tank devoted to issues of race and ethnicity.

“Unfortunately, a lot of companies are engaging in what they view as politically correct discrimination,” he said. “Companies are weighing race and ethnicity and sex in their hiring and promotion [decisions], and you’re not supposed to do that.”

He said companies should not make race-based employment decisions either for or against minorities.

Clegg said he thinks a company could open itself to potential liability if it announces it is going to make hiring decisions based on race and gender.

“The law makes it illegal to discriminate … on the basis of race and ethnicity and sex,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter whether you’re white or black or Asian or Latino or male or female. … It’s not good business, and it’s not fair.”

A ‘Jewish Empire’
Rooney had been working at Rock-Tenn for about five years when he was fired in 2015. Rooney said his supervisor, Dean Metter, the company’s vice president of business development, was Jewish and so was Nancy Collom, who was hired in 2013 to head the company’s Bentonville office.

He alleged in his court papers that Collom stated “her goal was to have more women in the Bentonville office.” Rooney also said that he was excluded from lunches and talks with the women in the office.

Rooney also alleged that Metter had said he was building a “Jewish empire” that included Collom, according to the 8th Circuit ruling, written by Judge John Gerrard. Judges Steven M. Colloton and Duane Benton agreed with the opinion.

Rooney said he was told his firing was “because of difficulties interacting with co-workers” and failing to support a client, according to the 8th Circuit opinion. Rooney disagreed with the company’s assessment and instead blamed discrimination for his firing.

He sued the company in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville in August 2015.

The company said in its court filings that he was fired because of his poor performance.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks agreed, and granted a motion for summary judgment in August 2016 because Rock-Tenn stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for firing him. Rooney was unable to prove that the reasons given by Rock-Tenn were pretexts for discrimination.

Rooney appealed to the 8th Circuit, which also ruled in favor of Rock-Tenn.

“Even with respect to Collom, Rooney’s evidence falls short,” the ruling said. “Generally Rooney claims that any conflict with Collom was her fault. But it is important to remember, as we have often said, that a federal court is not a super-personnel department with authority to review the wisdom or fairness of business judgments made by employers.”

The 8th Circuit also found that there was no evidence that Collom intentionally and proximately caused his termination.

“And without such evidence, there is nothing to suggest that gender bias was connected to Rooney’s firing,” the ruling said.

Rooney’s attorney, Stephen Lee Wood of Rogers, didn’t return a call for comment.

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