Appeals Court in Atlanta Again Rejects Racial
John Hithon, a black man, spent 13 tough years working his way into the lower ranks of
management at a Tyson Foods chicken plant in Gadsden, Ala. He started out as a “live
hanger,” hoisting 24 squirming birds onto moving metal hooks every minute. Then he moved
up to what court records called “killing and picking.” He was later made a supervisor in
charge of “eviscerating and deboning.”
But when two better jobs as shift supervisors opened up, Mr. Hithon was passed over by the
plant manager, who was white, in favor of two white candidates from other Tyson plants. Mr.
Hithon thought his skin color had something to do with it, and he sued for racial
As evidence, he testified about the manager’s habit of calling black employees “boy.”
Last month, for the third time and in the face of a 2006
, the federal appeals court in Atlanta
there were no racial overtones
when a white supervisor called an adult black man “boy.”
“The usages were conversational,” the majority explained, repeating what it had told the
trial court after the
ruled, and “nonracial in context.” Even if “somehow
construed as racial,” the unsigned 2-to-1 decision went on, “the comments were ambiguous
stray remarks” that were not proof of employment discrimination.
Two Alabama juries had seen things differently.
They had heard testimony from another black Tyson worker, Anthony Ash, who recalled
sitting in the cafeteria at lunchtime when the plant’s manager said, “Boy, you better get
going.” Mr. Ash said the manager’s tone was “mean and derogatory.”
Mr. Ash’s wife was there. “He’s not a boy,” Pam Ash shot back, according to her husband.
“He’s a man.”
Ms. Ash testified that the manager, Tom Hatley, “just looked at me with a smirk on his face
like it was funny.”
Mr. Ash explained to the jury why the remark stung.