Based on the facts presented in the scenario below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment-law case?

Yolanda Marsh knocked on the office door of operations manager Cliff McDaniel. “Come in, Yolanda,” he said genially.

“I am so sorry to bother you, Mr. McDaniel,” she said. “But I’m at the end of my rope with Bobbi Lerner.”

“Your manager?” he asked.

“Yes,” Yolanda replied. “As a Bible-believing Christian, I’m supposed to forgive those who treat me harshly. But Bobbi has just gone too far in attacking my religion, and I felt like I had to come to you.”

“What’s going on?” Cliff asked.

Couldn’t go to church
“She stopped me from attending a service project at my church,” Yolanda said. “It was on the morning of July 4, but Bobbi said I had to work the holiday — even after my team leader said I could have the day off.

“And she made me start at 8, four hours before everybody else,” Yolanda continued. “If I’d been able to come in at noon, I could have made my church event. She said if I went to it she’d fire my, well, my behind. And that’s not all…”

“Go on,” Cliff said.

“Sometimes Bobbi tells me to go to my – I’m embarrassed – my effing God to see if he can save my job. And one day she showed me her new pair of shoes and said, ‘Your God didn’t buy me these. I did.”

Cliff sighed. “I’ll speak to Bobbi,” he promsied. “Look, she’s a little rough, but you know her bark is worse than her bite. You need to laugh her off sometimes.”

Things didn’t improve with Bobbi, and Yolanda felt forced to quit. She sued for religiously hostile work environment. Did she win?

The decision
Yes, Yolanda got the court to agree that her lawsuit was strong enough to go to trial, forcing the company to either settle out of court or incur further expenses defending itself before a jury.

The company argued that supervisor Bobbi’s actions weren’t frequent or severe enough to create a hostile work environment. But the court disagreed, saying Bobbi displayed a continuous pattern of “acrimony based on religion” that was enough to affect the conditions under which Yolanda had to work.

When a supervisor engages in verbally abusive behavior toward an employee, this can radically harm the person’s ability to do his or her job. And when the abuse is based on a legally protected characteristic — like race, sex, religion, age or disability – the supervisor’s conduct becomes even more problematic. Such abuse is a betrayal of the organization’s trust in the supervisor, and a surefire trigger for a discrimination lawsuit.

Cite: Dediol v. Best Chevrolet Inc., No. 10-30767, 5th Cir., 9/12/11. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

photo credit: baltimoreheritage

16 Comments

  • Ramona says:

    On the surface, this seems like a clear-cut case of hostility/harassment.  I’d like to know what the investigation revealed.  According to the information given, it seems that the employee was concerned with being respectful, however I’d be interested in what pushed her manager to be so incensed at her worker.  Nevertheless, if it were true that this worker was unreasonably asked to report unnecessarily, 4 hours earlier than her co-workers,  then it is possible she is being single-out for harassment.  In addition, if a manager uses foul and insulting language, for the sake of belittling the employee’s belief, a hostile environment has been created.
    I’m interested to hear whether or not the manager claimed to be an atheist and thereby felt her own religious non-belief was under harassment, by her subordinate!  My guess is that she never made that claim!

  • Ramona says:

    On the surface, this seems like a clear-cut case of hostility/harassment.  I’d like to know what the investigation revealed.  According to the information given, it seems that the employee was concerned with being respectful, however I’d be interested in what pushed her manager to be so incensed at her worker.  Nevertheless, if it were true that this worker was unreasonably asked to report unnecessarily, 4 hours earlier than her co-workers,  then it is possible she is being single-out for harassment.  In addition, if a manager uses foul and insulting language, for the sake of belittling the employee’s belief, a hostile environment has been created.
    I’m interested to hear whether or not the manager claimed to be an atheist and thereby felt her own religious non-belief was under harassment, by her subordinate!  My guess is that she never made that claim!

  • Cindy Deleo says:

    Did she win??  Are you kidding me?  Of course she won.

  • Rhett says:

    I suspect that the company will have some explaining to do. It’s one thing to require an employee to work their schedule and quite another to simultaneously demean the employee on their religious beliefs.   It seems the sheer level of negative comments rises well above what any court would accept as stray or harmless.

  • Cindy Deleo says:

    Did she win??  Are you kidding me?  Of course she won.

  • Rhett says:

    I suspect that the company will have some explaining to do. It’s one thing to require an employee to work their schedule and quite another to simultaneously demean the employee on their religious beliefs.   It seems the sheer level of negative comments rises well above what any court would accept as stray or harmless.

  • Sue says:

    Cliff needs to investigate the situation not make excusses for Bobbi’s behavior. Seriously, laugh it off……I think not.  If the facts reveal that Bobbi did say those things and singled her out because of her religious beleifs then Bobbi needs put on a corrective action plan that requires him/her to go to management and sensitivity training.  Cliff needs to go, too.
    As far as winning the case, depends on the facts.

  • Sue says:

    Cliff needs to investigate the situation not make excusses for Bobbi’s behavior. Seriously, laugh it off……I think not.  If the facts reveal that Bobbi did say those things and singled her out because of her religious beleifs then Bobbi needs put on a corrective action plan that requires him/her to go to management and sensitivity training.  Cliff needs to go, too.
    As far as winning the case, depends on the facts.

  • guest says:

    looks more like a hostile working environment issue than a religous issue

  • guest says:

    looks more like a hostile working environment issue than a religous issue

  • HRDude says:

    Absolutely she won.  She made the complaint and according to this account, nothing was done.  Clear cut.  As to Ramona’s question of what pushed her manager to be so incensed… as a Bible believing Christian, I can tell you people JUST have no tolerance and often unfounded hatred for Christianity and the Bible.  If the manager did feel harassed, she has no defense.  She is an agent of the company and should have followed formal policy and procedure to deal with her claim.

  • HRDude says:

    Absolutely she won.  She made the complaint and according to this account, nothing was done.  Clear cut.  As to Ramona’s question of what pushed her manager to be so incensed… as a Bible believing Christian, I can tell you people JUST have no tolerance and often unfounded hatred for Christianity and the Bible.  If the manager did feel harassed, she has no defense.  She is an agent of the company and should have followed formal policy and procedure to deal with her claim.

  • justme says:

    Based on the above I would say that if she did not win then her lawyer was well prepared.  I realize that it is politically correct to bash religion nowadays but i still think with the facts presented she should have won.

  • justme says:

    Based on the above I would say that if she did not win then her lawyer was well prepared.  I realize that it is politically correct to bash religion nowadays but i still think with the facts presented she should have won.

  • orangevale diesel says:

    yes, justified, Cliff should have dealt with it vs. telling Yolanda to not take it so hard- at that point he opened the company up to suit. Yolanda may not have been the angel she seems, but, she doesn’t have to put up w/ the double standard, foul language or “harsh bark.” As an employer, often times I must remind my husband (owner of a diesel repair shop) that you are the babysitter, It’s not fun, suck it up, it’s your job- Shelbie, Orangevale Diesel

  • orangevale diesel says:

    yes, justified, Cliff should have dealt with it vs. telling Yolanda to not take it so hard- at that point he opened the company up to suit. Yolanda may not have been the angel she seems, but, she doesn’t have to put up w/ the double standard, foul language or “harsh bark.” As an employer, often times I must remind my husband (owner of a diesel repair shop) that you are the babysitter, It’s not fun, suck it up, it’s your job- Shelbie, Orangevale Diesel

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