Special Circumstances Not Required in Reverse Discrimination Suit

October 31, 2001 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A white male portfolio manager, claiming reverse discrimination, was not required to allege any 'special circumstances' to support his claim in court.

The federal judge found that the manager Wayne Tappe, who claims he was fired because of his race, had established that he was a member of a protected group under Title VII, and should not be held to a higher pleading standard.


Scheindlin noted that the US Supreme Court has indicated that “Title VII does not distinguish between traditional and non-traditional plaintiffs,” and the high court “has also steadfastly held male plaintiffs to the same standard as female plaintiffs.”

Further, Scheindlin noted “the background circumstances test, if adopted, would place a higher burden on Tappe than a ‘traditional’ plaintiff. If Tappe were black, he would not be required to allege any background circumstances,”

“Such differential treatment, if adopted, would raise a serious question because treating plaintiffs differently because of their race or sex triggers heightened constitutional scrutiny,” Scheindlin continued.

However, Judge Shira Scheindlin also found that Tappe failed to allege facts in support of his claims of sex and race discrimination in Tappe v. Alliance Capital Management. His claim did not meet the “minimal” burden of alleging facts to support his claims of age and race discrimination

Case History

Tappe was fired from his job as a Senior Portfolio Manager of Alliance’s High Yield Group in 1999, the same day that the firm was scheduled to give employees their bonuses

Since the four other members in the High Yield Group included three women, Tappe claimed he, being the only one not a member of a protected class, was singled out for termination.

But Alliance argued for dismissal on the grounds that Tappe did not allege “background circumstances” – that the firm was “an unusual employer who discriminates against the majority.”


Tappe’s complaint had charged that when he was fired, he was told that he did not fit the profile of the High Yield Group and its strategy for the future. Tappe pointed out that every “other portfolio manager is a member of a protected class by virtue of his or her gender, race and/or age.”

“These allegations, however, only show that Tappe worked in a diverse workforce and he was fired,” Scheindlin said. “To hold that these circumstances alone give rise to an inference of race or sex discrimination would mean that employees would always have a prima facie case of employment discrimination whenever they lost their jobs.”

Though she dismissed the discrimination claims, Scheindlin gave Tappe leave to amend his complaint within 20 days.

– Camilla Klein                                            editors@plansponsor.com