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Ex-congressman's paid suspension from law firm not race bias: 11th Circ.

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Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis discusses his support of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida August 28, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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  • Paid suspension doesn't trigger Title VII claims, court says
  • Eight other appeals courts came to the same conclusion
  • Former congressman can't sue nonprofit law firm he headed

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(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday said a paid suspension pending an investigation cannot form the basis of a workplace discrimination claim under federal law, tossing out a former U.S. congressman's race bias lawsuit against a nonprofit law firm he had headed.

Joining at least eight other federal appeals courts, an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said a paid suspension is not an "adverse employment action" under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it does not affect a worker's continued employment or pay.

The court upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, who says Legal Services Alabama in 2017 suspended him with pay from his position as executive director and forced him to quit because he is Black.

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LSA, which provides civil legal services to low-income people, suspended Davis amid claims that he had violated firm policies and was hostile toward some employees, according to court filings.

Davis, a Democrat who represented an Alabama district in Congress from 2003 to 2010, is currently with the plaintiffs' firm HKM Employment Attorneys.

In an email on Thursday, Davis said "this case strengthens my resolve to fight for a fairer playing field for victims of double standards in their workplace."

Guy Lescault, the current executive director of LSA, said the nonprofit was pleased with the decision.

Davis in a 2018 lawsuit said two white LSA officials had not been suspended for alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct that was more egregious than the claims against him.

But the 11th Circuit on Thursday said paid suspensions are a useful tool for employers who are trying to sort out whether allegations against employees have any merit and should not trigger Title VII liability. That is particularly true when the boss is under investigation, the court said.

The case is Davis v. Legal Services Alabama, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-12886.

For Davis: Edward Buckley of Buckley Beal

For LSA: Albert Vreeland and Whitney Brown of Lehr Middlebrooks Vreeland & Thompson

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.

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