Honeywell defeats fired engineer's appeal over diversity training

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Honeywell did not violate workplace anti-discrimination laws by firing a white engineer who refused to participate in mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training after the Black Lives Matter movement began, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago found no proof that Honeywell retaliated against Charles Vavra, after he complained a video he was supposed to watch on preventing unconscious bias in the workplace contained racist content.

In a 3-0 decision, the court said Vavra had no basis to reasonably believe the video violated Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act or an Illinois human rights law, because he never watched the video in the first place.

Vavra assumed the training “would vilify white people and treat people differently based on their race,” Circuit Judge Thomas Kirsch wrote. “But that presumption is purely speculative and insufficient to make his belief objectively reasonable.”

The judge also said Vavra had reason to believe Honeywell’s training was not discriminatory, because his supervisor had taken the training and told him it was not racist.

Kirsch and the other two appeals court judges were appointed to their positions by former President Donald Trump.

Lawyers for Vavra did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Honeywell and lawyers for the Charlotte, North Carolina-based industrial conglomerate did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The decision came amid growing complaints by some conservative groups and shareholders about the alleged illegality of workplace initiatives to counteract bias.

Unconscious bias training became more common after a Minneapolis police officer’s murder of George Floyd in May 2020 sparked nationwide protests over racial injustice.

Vavra was fired in April 2021, and sued Honeywell eight months later. A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit in August 2023. Wednesday’s decision upheld that dismissal.

The case is Vavra v. Honeywell International Inc, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 23-2823.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Jamie Freed)

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