7th Cir.: Supervisor demoted because of false time cards, not bias
- The U.S. Postal Service’s decision to demote a supervisor to a part-time mail carrier position was supported by substantial evidence that he was marking down work hours for an absent employee, a federal appeals court has ruled (Young v. Megan Brennan, Postmaster General, U.S. Postal Service, No. 15-cv-10633 (7th Cir., Nov. 1, 2018)).
- The former supervisor, Robert Young, had alleged in a suit that the Postal Service discriminated against him based on his race, sex and age when it demoted him after 10 years. But the employer was able to show that, after an investigation, it determined that he had been improperly inputting hours on a subordinate’s time card while the employee was absent from work without leave. Young admitted the actions and received a demotion and pay cut.
- He sued, but a trial court granted the Postal Service’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that a reasonable fact finder could not conclude that race, sex or age motivated the demotion. Young appealed and the 7th Circuit upheld the lower court's ruling, noting that he had not identified a comparator who input inaccurate information on a time sheet to allow an employee to get paid for unauthorized absence, much less a comparator who did so on a repeated basis.
The Young case illustrates the importance of a good-faith investigation and solid documentation.
When an employer receives a complaint regarding employee misconduct, experts say that HR has an obligation to take it seriously and, in some cases, undertake an investigation. While some things may be better left to attorneys, HR should feel free to conduct most investigations internally, Pavneet Singh Uppal and Shayna Balch, both partners at Fisher Phillips LLP, told attendees at a recent conference. The key, however, is a "good-faith" review.
This includes written documentation of every step taken, including the conclusion reached and the discipline doled out, the attorneys said. Whether HR is engaging in the interactive process of looking for a disability accommodation or investigating a sexual harassment claim, documentation continues to help employers successfully defend discrimination lawsuits.
And while employers may be wary of doling out discipline if they know a discrimination charge is on the horizon, employment law attorneys say it’s best to have policies and enforce them evenly. The situation often arises when an employee with a disability discloses an impairment as a defense to discipline, or when an employee's misconduct is discovered because of his or her family or medical leave. Experts say it may be worth taking a second look to ensure everything is above board, but courts continue to hold that a discrimination claim can't insulate an employee from discipline.