Appeals Court Reverses Jury's Decision against Citibank in Discrimination Case

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court has thrown out a $75,000 jury award against Citibank for racial discrimination and intentionally causing a former teller, who is black, emotional distress.

The unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in overturning the jury verdict, ruled last week that the plaintiff, Eva Martin, had failed to present sufficient evidence to win damages from the bank.

The case grew out of a 1981 investigation of the disappearance of cash, checks, money orders, and a passbook at a lower Manhattan Citibank branch. About half of the missing items had been deposited in automated teller machines or the express deposit box.

During the course of an internal investigation, seven of the 15 people who handled money at the branch were given lie-detector tests, including Ms. Martin. Five were black, one was Hispanic, and one was white. Ms. Martin passed the test, but another employee failed and was fired.

Despite being exonerated, "she was upset" at having been suspected and because nearly all of those given the test were black.

At her request, she was transferred to another branch, where she complained she was "harassed" by her superiors and coworkers. She resigned shortly afterward and sued Citibank, charging "disparate" treatment and "constructive discharge," or acting in a manner which effectively caused her to leave her job. She also accused the bank of "intentional infliction of emotional distress." The claims were based on the theory that she was given the lie-detector test because of her race.

Citibank maintained that those selected to be tested were chosen chiefly because of each person's potential access to the missing funds.

The bank also claimed that their investigators did not know the race of those that they chose to test until they appeared to be tested. …