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Xerox to Face Race Discrimination Claims

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Xerox Corporation must defend claims it fired a black woman based on her race, a federal judge has ruled.

Sakeenah McCullough was hired by Xerox in 1999. She was promoted from customer service representative to sales representative in 2000, serving in that capacity until she was fired in December 2011.

In June 2013, she and co-worker, Daniel Gunther, filed a lawsuit against the company in San Francisco County Superior Court, McCullough alleging race discrimination and unlawful retaliation under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act.

She says her supervisors assigned her "unfair and inequitable" sales territories and "unreasonable" sales quotas compared with her white co-workers, and that she was retaliated against and ultimately fired for complaining about it.

The case was removed to San Francisco Federal Court in October 2014. Xerox moved for summary judgment in April 2015, arguing in part that McCullough's fair employment claims are time-barred.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam agreed, stating that McCullough didn't file her complaint within the statutory one-year time period from the date she received a right-to-sue notice from the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"The undisputed facts establish that McCullough did not timely file her fair employment claims," Gilliam said in a 21-page order.

McCullough, however, also claims wrongful termination against public policy, based on defendant's alleged violations of the act.

In its motion for summary judgment, Xerox argued McCullough's wrongful termination claim does not meet the requirements under the act and that the company fired for her for "legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons," citing customer complaints; violation of company policy by working full-time at Weight Watchers while still employed with Xerox; failure to meet sales expectations; and general poor sales performance.

Gilliam said that while Xerox satisfied its burden to show legitimate cause for firing McCullough, she nonetheless "presented enough evidence to create a triable issue of fact" whether she was indeed fired under false pretexts.

He said the evidence, "if believed by a jury," showed that, among other things, McCullough's sales territory was unjustly split with a white employee when she was meeting her sales expectations, that she and her black supervisor were put on probation despite work performance comparable to their white counterparts, and that she was not evaluated under the same set of standards as white employees.

"The court finds that, viewed as a whole, McCullough's evidence establishes that triable issues of material fact exist regarding defendant's claimed nondiscriminatory reasons for her termination," Gilliam said. "The court does not doubt that Xerox has presented substantial facts, which, if believed by a jury trial, will constitute a strong defense to McCullough's claim."

Citing the Ninth Circuit, he added "in no uncertain terms ... in fact-intensive discrimination cases 'the ultimate question is one that can only be resolved through a searching inquiry - one that is most appropriately conducted by a fact-finder, upon a full record.' In light of this guidance, the court finds that McCullough has narrowly met her burden with regard to her claim for wrongful termination against pubic policy."

Finally, Gilliam denied Xerox's motion for summary judgment on McCullough's claim for declaratory relief and punitive damages, which are contingent upon her success at trial.

Attorneys for Xerox were not immediately available for comment.

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