06 May Under Today’s Laws, Everyone Needs To Be Lawyer
Needless to say, that’s a terrible thing.
Let me give two examples of what I mean.
First, from Wells Fargo:
Wells Fargo had mountains of well-documented evidence to back up its decision to fire a poorly performing employee, but a simple phrase by a manager could wind up making all that evidence moot.
Here’s some background on the suit: After being hired by Wells Fargo in March of 2012 as a sales consultant, the plaintiff, Stewart, started a slow and steady performance decline, beginning with an initial review showing she under-performed in a number of areas including meeting the annual sales goal.
Her performance declined in the first quarter of 2013, and her supervisor claimed he received a number of complaints about her work. She was initially issued a “not uncommon” informal warning by her supervisor for her performance and low sales. Then, when her performance didn’t improve, she was given a formal performance warning. That warning cautioned Stewart she could be fired if her performance didn’t improve.
After receiving the formal warning, Stewart let her boss know she was having health issues — myelopathy with doctor-recommended surgery — that she’d need to resolved.
Then, after receiving a mid-year performance review showing she was “Off Track” in every single performance category, Stewart requested FMLA leave for neck surgery, a request that was immediately approved. She returned after five weeks but was warned by her supervisor she was “close to being terminated.”
Less than two months after she returned from leave, Stewart’s supervisor sent an email to HR and his own manager saying, “I believe we need to move to termination as soon as possible for several reasons.”
Stewart’s supervisor then went on to list a number of valid, performance-based reasons for her termination. He then added the firing “was justified because ‘Debby submits a request for medical leave.’” Obviously referring to the fact that despite being given every break in the book, there was no sign of improvement.
Following the supervisor’s suggestion, Stewart was fired “for continued poor performance,” which prompted her to file an FMLA retaliation lawsuit. Wells Fargo then attempted to get the suit dismissed.
As you can probably guess, a court refused to dismiss Stewart’s lawsuit despite ample evidence her performance was sub-par. They chose instead to focus on the supervisor’s comments.
The second case, out of Western PA.
A manager for Pittsburgh glassworks approached a former employee, who’d been brought in through a subcontractor, and told him that he would be considered for a full-time position if he “made the whole thing go away.”
The “thing” the manager was referring to was an age discrimination lawsuit.
Prior to the manager’s comment, the employee was an engineering specialist and production line supervisor for the company until March of 2009.
It was at that time, which was shortly after a reshuffling of company ownership, that about 100 workers were terminated as part of a company-wide workforce reduction, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Seven men in their 50s reacted by filing an age discrimination lawsuit. The suit claimed Pittsburgh Glass Works was populating production facilities with younger workers at the expense of older workers.
Then, in the fall of 2009, one of the plaintiffs was rehired through a subcontractor to work at one of the company’s plants in East Deer, PA, as a shift maintenance supervisor.
According to the Post-Gazette’s report, several months after he was picked up the manager said would be considered for a full-time gig if he’d “make the whole thing go away.”
He didn’t drop the age bias suit, and was let go shortly afterwards.
He then tacked a retaliation charge onto his discrimination lawsuit.
Now here’s the kick in the pants for Pittsburgh Glass Works: A court tossed the discrimination lawsuit when the company won summary judgment in regards to his age bias charges.
But since the manager spoke up, a federal court jury ruled the company had willfully violated federal anti-retaliation law when it terminated him the second time for failing to drop the age bias charges. Never mind that they were not required to rehire him in the first place, and only did so in order that they could offer him a settlement.
And because it was deemed a willful violation of the law, the court ruled the company was liable for double the damages due for lost wages on retaliation claims, to the tune of over $900,000.
Based on the foregoing evidence, I respectfully submit that tort reform is absolutely vital to ensure continuing economic growth and prosperity.
I rest my case.