A Cautionary Note for Employers on Workplace Discrimination
According to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on occasion, many actions and not any single thing can lead to a workplace discrimination lawsuit gaining traction in the courts.
A case recently heard in the 11th Circuit Court involves a female African American police officer fired from her job by Union City Georgia when, after a recent heart attack, she refused to undergo a test requiring her to subject herself to a five-second taser shock and exposure to pepper spray.
The police department announced the new officer certification requirements after the plaintiff was back on active duty for a year post-heart attack.
In refusing the taser and pepper spray test, the plaintiff stated she was concerned about the health implications of such tests given her history of heart disease. Her physician agreed.
Union City proceeded to place her on administrative leave until cleared by her doctor for full duty.
Shortly after that, the city fired her for exhausting her paid leave and not filing her Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork, even though they did not provide a submission deadline.
The officer subsequently brought disability, race, gender, and other claims to a Georgia trial court claiming the police department and the city had fired her for not showing up for work after she was placed on administrative leave.
While the Georgia trial court dismissed the case, the 11th Circuit has now ruled that her case can proceed because Union City acknowledged she had a disability by putting her on leave and then firing her for not completing FMLA paperwork.
What’s more, the plaintiff presented “a convincing mosaic” of indirect evidence that could “allow a jury to infer intentional discrimination.”
Just what did the 11th Circuit define as a convincing mosaic of indirect evidence?
Here are the examples they gave:
- An employer’s suspicious timing between incidents and an employment action.
- Ambiguous statements about the plaintiff.
- Arbitrary employer actions, arguably such as Union City placing the plaintiff on indefinite administrative leave and then firing her for being absent without leave.
- Better treatment of similarly situated employees.
- Showing an employer’s stated reason for its actions are false or not what actually motivated its conduct.
What’s the takeaway for Connecticut employers?
Take a careful look at the list above and consider how to safeguard your workplace to avoid discrimination lawsuits in the future.
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