- Blog post
Fired for being disruptive, or because she had jury duty?
HR manager Colby Clark frowned as supervisor Anne Quentin came into his office and sat down.
“This company hasn’t been sued in 10 years,” Colby said. “But now we’re facing a lawsuit from Jenna Burwell, one of your former employees. I received the summons yesterday.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” Anne said. “But I’m not surprised. Jenna was nothing but trouble from Day One, and I had to get rid of her to avoid my department being completely disrupted.”
A two-week absence
“Jenna claims she was fired because you resented the fact that she was going to miss two weeks for jury duty,” Colby said.
“Having somebody away for two full weeks was going to present a challenge,” Anne said. “But I know better than to fire somebody because they have jury duty.”
“No, the problem was how weird and off-putting Jenna was with everybody – employees and customers alike,” Anne went on. “She’d hang over co-workers’ desks to watch them and give orders to people she had no authority over.”
“Then she would practically let her tongue hang out when my assistant manager came into the room. She’d go on and on about how handsome he was, how nice he smelled, and how she had this ‘connection’ with him. It creeped everybody out, frankly.”
A matter of documentation
“You’re describing somebody I wouldn’t want to work with either,” Colby said. “I assume you have some documentation of these issues? You spoke with Jenna about them?”
“More than once,” Anne said. “But I never put anything on paper.”
Colby rubbed his forehead. “That’s not good,” he said. “The thing is, you did fire Jenna later the same day she told you about her jury duty. Without a paper trail, it might look like you were punishing her for the jury summons, which is illegal in this state.”
“Plenty of Jenna’s co-workers will testify about the trouble she caused,” Anne said.
“I hope that will convince a judge her case has no merit,” Colby said.
Did the company succeed in getting Jenna’s lawsuit thrown out?
No, the court refused to dismiss Jenna’s case. The judge said that given the conflicting stories told by Jenna and by supervisor Anne, it would take a jury to decide whether Jenna’s claim of retaliation for jury duty was true or not.
The company did produce a number of co-workers who testified about Jenna’s annoying and inappropriate ways. But Jenna herself claimed she’d been a good employee and had no issues with co-workers. Her termination couldn’t have been about her behavior, she claimed.
And in the absence of documentation proving that Jenna had been disruptive, it was Jenna’s word against Anne’s.
If you don’t document employees’ poor performance and/or bad conduct, you’ll put yourself and your employer at risk when you discipline such employees.
Even if someone amply deserves discipline, and everybody knows it, you need to be able to prove it – because the person is likely to misrepresent your reasons afterward.
Cite: Hackney v. Daubert, No. 11-80856, S.D. Fla., 5/7/12. Fictionalized for dramatic effect