Articles Posted in Retaliation

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Employers have a reasonably wide latitude in the non-discriminatory reasons that they state as bases for terminating employees. That latitude does not, however, extend to punishing an employee for “disruptive conduct” if the conduct in question was testifying on behalf of a co-worker in her Title VII discrimination case. A recent ruling from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a terminated employee to pursue his retaliation claim. Testifying in a Title VII case is a protected activity under the law, and punishing him under the guise of “disruptive conduct” for giving unflattering testimony about his employer in his deposition raises a potential issue of retaliation.

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An African-American customer service worker who was held back from promotion while other white coworkers with similar performance reviews were promoted had a potential claim for race discrimination and retaliation, according to a recent Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The employee did not have a valid claim for constructive discharge, though. The decision is a reminder to Tennessee employees and employers of the higher level of intolerable conditions for a constructive discharge claim as compared to a retaliation claim.

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A significant new ruling issued earlier this month by the U.S. Supreme Court offers very good news for employees who have been the victims of discrimination that was so bad that it ultimately forced them to quit their jobs in order to escape the mistreatment. According to the Court’s 7-1 majority, the statute of limitations for pursuing a discrimination claim does not even begin to run until the date the employee resigns, as opposed to the date of the last act of discrimination. This decision delays the start of that limitations period and gives employees in Georgia and across the country an expanded period of time to begin pursuing their claims.

The case leading to this ruling began in a post office in Colorado. Marvin Green, an African-American man, applied to be the postmaster of Englewood, Colorado. Another applicant received the job, and Green launched a claim, alleging that his rejection was the result of racial discrimination. According to Green, his supervisors responded to that action by threatening him with a criminal investigation on the basis of intentionally delaying the mail. Ultimately, the supervisors and Green worked out an agreement to avoid the investigation. Green would either accept a reassignment to the tiny and isolated town of Wamsutter, Wyoming (located four hours northwest of Green’s suburban Denver job) and the dramatic pay cut that went with it… or retire.

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A pair of minority employees at a jail in Georgia lost the chance to go to trial on their claims that their employer committed racial discrimination and then retaliated against them when they filed formal complaints about the misconduct, due to their timing for suing their employer. The US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia decided that the employees’ claims were not filed within the period of time required by the law, so the case could not proceed.

The employees in this case were Justin Ramzy and Alicia Spearman, who worked as part of the medical team in the Muscogee County Jail. The employees, both of whom were African-American, suffered what they believed was racial discrimination at work. After Ramzy and Spearman filed a complaint about the discrimination in 2012, Ramzy was terminated the next year for violating medical team protocol regarding the recording of patient medical information. Ramzy claimed that other white employees did the same thing but weren’t punished. Spearman produced documents that backed up Ramzy’s claim.

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A recent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed a very important topic within the realm of disability discrimination law:  specifically, when is telecommuting a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability? In the case of one Ford Motor Co. employee, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the employer’s refusal to allow an employee to telecommute four days per week was not the denial of a reasonable accommodation, but a case of an employee unable to perform the essential functions of her job.

The employee, Jane Harris, was a resale buyer with Ford who had irritable bowel syndrome. Harris’ job performance steadily declined during her time with Ford, in part due to her condition. Ford had occasionally approved telecommuting for Harris, but, even with the accommodation, the employee’s performance continued to worsen.

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A trucking company that fired a truck driver who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), according to a recent Eleventh Circuit ruling.

The plaintiff in the case was employed in Georgia by the defendant, a trucking company, as an over-the-road driver. In 2010, the plaintiff requested and was granted an FMLA leave of absence to care for a “serious health problem” after talking with his personal physician about his alcohol issues. Upon completion of a 30-day program at an inpatient substance abuse facility, the plaintiff’s physician certified that he was fit to return to work. A week after his discharge from the treatment program, the plaintiff was fired. The reason given was that his clinical diagnosis of chronic “alcohol dependence” made him unfit for his job according to company policy and DOT regulations.

The plaintiff sued his former employer for wrongful termination under the ADA and interference and retaliation under the FMLA. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia granted summary judgment on behalf of the defendant. The plaintiff appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

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The statute of limitations for a Georgia whistleblower action does not accrue until the employee receives a definitive or final determination about the alleged retaliatory action, the Court of Appeals of Georgia held late last year. This ruling helps public employees who have been wrongfully terminated by their employers prove their cases under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute.

The plaintiff in the case was the police chief for a public institution in the University of Georgia system. The school fired the plaintiff in late 2009 after several contentious issues that began in October 2008. One of these was school staff interfering in a criminal investigation that the plaintiff thought was in violation of Georgia law. In June 2009, school administrators asked the plaintiff to resign from his post once he found a new job or face immediate termination. He initially agreed to resign but later changed his mind. On November 19th 2009, the school delivered a letter of termination to the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed suit under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute for wrongful termination on November 10, 2010.

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment contending, in part, that the the statute of limitations barred suit. It was granted by the trial court, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

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Just a couple of decades ago, some of the biggest unsanctioned communications “perks” an employee might covet would be making a long-distance call on the company dime or using the fax for personal business when no one was looking. Then came the chain emails and funny cat videos one could sneak in between doing actual work. Now, however, an array of social media sites being constantly updated tethers many workers to information and entertainment streams that have nothing to do with their jobs and everything to do with wasting time.

Abstractly, time spent mindlessly browsing Facebook or Twitter while on the clock is time being stolen from the company. To combat the problem, it used to be that businesses could simply add a few firewalls and restrict access to certain sites. As smartphone ownership with high-speed data has become more of the norm, however, there’s less that can be done to stop employees from simply shifting their Internet play time off the company servers and into their palms. But is the time spent goofing off online really any different from time that was once wasted at the water cooler, or have workers merely taken inherent down time to its natural technological extension?

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As a kid, everyone seems to have that one friend whose parents are infinitely more permissive than their own. They get to stay up late, eat junk food, and come and go at their leisure. For the envious rest of us, childhood was just a matter of biding time until we were all grown up and could do what we pleased without anyone telling us what to do. All those years of waiting for the freedom we’d only dreamed about seemed poised to bathe us in unrestricted joy…

Then came our jobs. Actual responsibilities and obligations became our new burdens, at least as long as we wanted the income to support our fabulous visions of freedom. Bosses and clients and our direct reports and customers and partners:  everyone’s demands whittle away at the dream of complete autonomy. Before you realize it, you’d love it if someone would make you go to bed by 10 on a weeknight, but then who’d get to all those backlogged reports?

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With all the misplaced fears and manufactured hysteria about the first Ebola case diagnosed in the US, it is not hard to assume most people are happy they are not health care workers in that Dallas hospital. Unfortunately, it looks like at least one of the nurses caring for the initial victim is testing positive for the disease, and dozens more workers who had direct and indirect contact with the infected individual are being quarantined and monitored for the next couple of weeks. The chance of contracting a virus that is killing more than half of its victims in Western Africa is a high price for anyone to pay for choosing a career in medicine, but that is the risk they assumed when they took the job, right? Not exactly.

While health care workers are used to dealing with all kinds of sicknesses and gore, some things simply fall outside the norm. Expecting emergency room nurses or doctors to be well-versed in caring for highly unusual maladies, such as heavy radiation exposure, exotic poisons and toxins, or pandemic-level diseases previously confined to other continents is unreasonable, if not impossible. Thus, it was not surprising to see the head of the nation’s largest nurses’ union blast the Centers for Disease Control for appearing to blame the now-infected nurse’s own breach of safety protocol for her exposure to the Ebola virus.

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