The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



Only Black Sales Rep in Midwest Office Fired Because of Race, Despite Outstanding Performance, and Replaced by White Employee, Federal Agency Says

CHICAGO – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today filed a race discrimination lawsuit against ConMed Corp on behalf of Paul Hickman, an African American former employee who was terminated from his position as sales representative for the ConMed Midwest Office division because of his race. ConMed is an international medical device corporation specializing in orthopedics and general surgery.

An EEOC administrative investigation, conducted under the supervision of Chicago District Director John Rowe, preceded the lawsuit and revealed that Hickman was the only black sales representative in the Midwest Office, and was the only sales representative terminated from that office.

“By the end of our investigation, our view was that the employer’s performance-based justification would not withstand scrutiny,” Rowe said. “Now a jury will assess whether what was really going on was race discrimination.”

Hickman was fired for allegedly poor performance, only two months after receiving an award for outstanding sales, when a new white sales manager took over the Midwest Office. The new sales manager hired three white sales representatives and then terminated Hickman despite his superior performance, according to the EEOC.

Chicago Regional Attorney John Hendrickson said, “In any case, the combination of new white employees being brought on board while well-performing black employees are being let go at least raises the issue of bias. Our task in this case — as it is in every case — is to put the jury in the best possible position to fairly resolve that issue consistent with the evidence.”

The EEOC filed the suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (EEOC v. ConMed Corp., Civil Action No. 09 C 2158, filed 4/8/09) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The case was assigned to District Judge John Darrah.

The EEOC litigation effort will be led by Supervisory Trial Attorney Gregory Gochanour and Trial Attorney Laurie Elkin. “For any employer to terminate a qualified and well-performing employee because of his race doesn’t make sense,” Elkin said. “It’s counterproductive for the employer — who already has an investment in the employee — and unjust for the employee — who wouldn’t have had a problem but for the color of his skin.”

In FY 2008, the EEOC received 33,937 race discrimination charge filings, an 11% increase from the prior year and one of the highest levels ever. Race discrimination continues to be the most frequent type of charge filing with the EEOC.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at

This page was last modified on April 9, 2009.

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