A Black attorney who represented Alabama in Congress for four terms and ran for governor can’t pursue a racial discrimination claim against the nonprofit legal organization he once headed, a federal appeals court ruled.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a decision Thursday, refused to reinstate Artur Davis’ lawsuit against Legal Services Alabama, which has eight offices statewide and provides legal assistance to the needy in civil matters.
Once a rising star in state and national politics, the 54-year-old Davis worked as executive director of Legal Services Alabama for nine months ending in August 2017 before resigning. He later filed suit claiming he was forced out and treated unfairly because of his race.
But a three-judge panel upheld a lower court’s decision dismissing his lawsuit. It cited a lack of proof that Davis suffered an “adverse employment action” such as a demotion, pay cut or unpaid leave.
The court, in the first ruling of its kind in the 11th Circuit, also disagreed with Davis’ claim that he was wronged by being suspended with pay while the agency reviewed complaints from subordinates. Separately, it rejected Davis’ argument that the organization defamed him by sharing information with a consultant hired to handle public relations related to Davis’ suspension.
The current head of Legal Services Alabama said Friday the agency was pleased with the ruling.
“Our board is comprised of volunteer lawyers and community leaders who take seriously our responsibility to help our clients with their civil legal needs and to comply with all federal laws including employment laws. This decision affirms that our actions in this case were aligned with this value,” said a statement from executive director Guy Lescault.
Davis, who now works as an employment attorney, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Davis was first elected to the U.S. House as a Democrat and served from 2003 to 2011. He lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2009 in part because of his opposition to then-President Barack Obama’s health care package.
Once dubbed “Alabama’s Obama,” Davis spoke at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama but switched to the Republican Party and spoke at the GOP national convention in 2012 in support of Mitt Romney. Davis later said he was switching back to the Democratic Party and has twice run unsuccessful campaigns for mayor of Montgomery, most recently in 2019.