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Googled, then fired, for being Black

Opening brief filed in employment discrimination appeal

May 28, 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, so Mr. Bing left another job early.

Everything changed when Mr. Bing’s 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 Baltimore Sun article that named Mr. Bing as a witness in an investigation into Halloween “celebratory gunfire.” The supervisor pulled Mr. Bing out of orientation, confronted him about the article, and fired him on the spot. That ended Mr. Bing’s first, and now last, day of working at Brivo.

Mr. Bing sued for race discrimination on his own, but the District Court bought 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 our opening brief in May, we argue that the District Court ignored Mr. Bing’s allegations about how Brivo found the article in the first place – a discriminatory internet search. After learning Mr. Bing was Black, his supervisor Googled him either because a) he wanted to search – literally – for a pretext to fire him, or b) implicit bias against Blacks subconsciously caused the supervisor to Google him. Either scenario would be race discrimination. We also argued in the alternative that, if Brivo actually has a standard practice of allowing supervisors to Google employees, that practice has a disparate impact on its employees of color. This is another reason the case should not have been dismissed right at the outset, because it prevented Mr. Bing from conducting discovery to find out what was really going on. We hope that the Fourth Circuit will recognize how important it is to view race discrimination complaints through a modern lens.

Photo by Courtney Corlew on Unsplash