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Nurse Loses Pregnancy Discrimination Case Because She Didn’t Prove that Her Employer’s ‘Poor Performance’ Reasons Were Mere Pretext

doctorWhether you are an employer or an employee, if you are involved in a Georgia pregnancy discrimination action, it pays to know what the law requires of you to succeed. As an employer, you’ll likely need to be able to give the court a valid, legitimate, and non-discriminatory reason for the action you took. As an employee, you’ll need to establish that the reason the employer cited was actually a pretext for discrimination. In one ruling recently upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer won because the employee couldn’t prove that the employer’s assertions of substandard performance were merely pretextual.

The employee, Kirby, was a licensed practical nurse who worked at several long-term rehab facilities. In doing her work, she crossed paths with a doctor who inquired about the nurse’s interest in working for his medical practice. The position, called a “nurse liaison,” was a new one the practice was still developing.

The nurse accepted and began working for the practice in July 2014. Things unfortunately did not go as planned for the nurse or the doctors. The doctors designed the nurse liaison position to visit with various hospitals and other facilities, and to drum up new business for the practice. The nurse, however, scheduled no appointments with any facilities other than those directed by the doctors, put together no promotional events, and brought in zero new business for the practice. At two meetings, both scheduled at the behest of the doctors, things were not successful. The nurse allegedly was late, brought incorrect refreshments, dressed inappropriately, and behaved in a manner that “put off” one potential client.

Then, in late August, the nurse informed her employer that she was pregnant with twins. Nine days later, the doctors and the practice administrator held a meeting. They decided that the nurse liaison position was the incorrect solution to their problems and that they would simply eliminate Kirby’s job (and her employment along with it). They told Kirby that her salary could not be justified, given the lack of new business the practice had received.

The nurse sued, alleging sex discrimination based upon her pregnancy. The employer argued that it fired the nurse not because she was pregnant but because her performance was poor and her work had failed to generate the new business (and increased revenue) the practice expected.

The law, once an employer offers a legitimate basis for its action, requires the employee to prove to the court that the stated non-discriminatory reason was actually just a pretext. This nurse attempted to meet her obligation of showing pretext by bringing forward evidence that the employer never expressed concerns about her performance, never told her that her job was at risk, and never formally disciplined her for her dress, her lateness, or her performance.

This evidence that the employee offered wasn’t enough to overcome the employer’s proof of poor performance. Even if all of the nurse’s assertions were true, they only established that the employer failed to communicate the expectations of the position well and was ineffective “in helping her succeed in growing their business.” None of it refuted the fact that the problematic issues cited by the employer (like bringing in zero new business, occasionally dressing unprofessionally, showing up late to client meetings, and working to find her mother a job while she was supposed to be finding new business for her employer) happened, and none of it refuted that the employer genuinely viewed her work as substandard.

When you are facing the prospect of discrimination litigation, don’t go it alone. Contact the skilled Georgia pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Mays & Kerr, who have spent many years working to aid our clients in dealing with their sex, race, age, and other discrimination actions.

To speak with one of our lawyers about your case, call 1-877-986-5529.

More blog posts:

Eleventh Circuit Upholds Six-Figure Discrimination Verdict for Breastfeeding Mom ‘Constructively Discharged’ from Her Job, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Sept. 13, 2017

Sixth Circuit Upholds Ruling for Employer in FMLA, Pregnancy Discrimination Dispute, Atlanta Employment Attorneys Blog, Oct. 28, 2015

Photo Credit: Darko Stojanovich, [CC0 License], via Pixabay.