Morris v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 19-2913 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Morris worked for nine years as a train conductor for BNSF. The company fired him after he committed two speeding infractions during a single shift on a train carrying hazardous chemicals and failed to follow company rules requiring self-reporting of the violations. Morris, who is African American, invoked Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-2(a)(1), and sued to challenge his termination, alleging that BNSF punished him more severely than non-black employees who committed similar safety violations. A jury found in his favor. Morris was awarded $531,292 in back pay, $137,450 in front pay, $275,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages of $370,000
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the viability of Morris’s theory of discrimination, the sufficiency of his evidence, discovery rulings, and remedies. Morris introduced comprehensible and detailed evidence about how other employees were treated after committing safety violations. Although the supervisor responsible for any race-based discrimination did not make the termination decision, that supervisor’s decision to channel Morris down the path of formal discipline was based on race. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to order reinstatement.