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Googled, then fired, for being Black

Murnaghan Fellow argues before Fourth Circuit in employment discrimination appeal

December 11, 2019: When Robel Bing applied for a job as a customer care representative at Brivo Systems, things looked promising. His application passed the initial screening, the interview went well, and he passed the criminal background check. Brivo offered him the job and asked him to begin as soon as possible, prompting Mr. Bing to put in his two weeks’ notice with his former employer.

Mr. Bing alleged that everything changed when his white supervisor saw him for the first time during his first-day orientation. Since Mr. Bing had not specified his race on his application, the supervisor had not known that Mr. Bing was African-American. After seeing him, the supervisor decided to Google Mr. Bing’s name – apparently contrary to any established procedure at Brivo. The supervisor found a 10-year-old Baltimore Sun article that named Mr. Bing as a witness in an investigation into Halloween “celebratory gunfire.” He pulled Mr. Bing out of orientation, confronted him about the article, and fired him on the spot. That ended Mr. Bing’s first, and last, day of working at Brivo.

Mr. Bing sued for race discrimination on his own, but the District Court of Maryland credited Brivo’s argument that he was fired for the newspaper article and not because of discrimination and dismissed his complaint at the start of the case. The Public Justice Center is now representing him on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

In December, Murnaghan Fellow Dena Robinson represented Mr. Bing before the Court (based on briefing by former fellow Ejaz Baluch). She argued that implicit bias against African Americans led the supervisor to Google Mr. Bing. She noted that other recent race discrimination cases filed under Title VII have addressed situations where unconscious, unchecked racial biases contributed to disparate treatment of people of color in the workplace.

Notably, Dena was asked to define implicit bias on the record. This is important not only because it helps to educate the judiciary and influence their decision-making, but because stating it on the record is an open acknowledgment that implicit bias exists and has very real consequences on people’s lives. Our society, especially our courts, have not yet internalized that racism is perpetuated through implicit bias and microaggressions, which are less visible than instances of overt racism. We hope the Fourth Circuit will recognize the central role that implicit bias plays in race discrimination and allow Mr. Bing’s case to proceed.