A federal court in Nevada recently rejected a race discrimination claim based upon allegations that the plaintiff was fired after voting for African-American presidential candidate Barack Obama. Whitfield v. Trade Show Servs. Ltd., Civil Action No.: 2:10-CV-00905-LRH-VCF (D. Nev. Mar. 1, 2012). William Whitfield started working as an account manager for security firm Trade Show Services in September 2008. On Election Day, November 4, 2008, Whitfield was still in probationary status, meaning he was subject to termination at any time, with or without notice. The company contracted to provide security services at a convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Election Day and scheduled Whitfield to work at that site.
On November 3, Whitfield told his boss that he intended on voting first thing the following morning. After discussion, Whitfield’s supervisor told him to report to work as soon as possible on Election Day. The company’s owner joked that she would give Whitfield time off to vote so long as he was “voting for the right person” – and not the candidate who wanted to “raise taxes on the rich.” Whitfield took her comment to mean that she opposed Barack Obama, and told his supervisors that he intended to vote for Obama for President.
On Election Day, Whitfield reported to work at 7:30 am, then left at lunchtime to vote at a polling center about nine miles away. Because of traffic delays and long lines at the polls, Whitfield did not finish voting until about 4:30 pm. He contacted his supervisor to see if he should still return to the Convention Center (because his workday typically ended at 4:00 pm), and was told to make an appearance. When Whitfield returned after his afternoon absence, his supervisors fired him.
Whitfield sued for race discrimination. Though Whitfield is black, he did not allege he was subject to discrimination due to his own race; instead Whitfield claimed that he was fired because he supported and voted for an African-American candidate. What Whitfield attempted to allege was a claim of associational discrimination – that is, that his employer intentionally discriminated against him because of his association with a black candidate. The court readily dismissed Whitfield’s lawsuit, finding that he had no evidence that reason for his termination involved any prejudice against Barack Obama as an African-American. While Whitfield’s supervisors may not have liked Obama’s policies on taxes, there was no indication that they took into account his race. Whitfield could not overcome the logical reason for his discharge after taking several hours during work time to vote.