- A former 911 call center employee is suing the Bobby Dodd Institute for firing her over a menstrual leak, USA Today reports. The Fort Benning, GA, employment agency allegedly threatened to fire Alisha Coleman the first time a leak occurred; it made good on that promise when it happened a second time. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia filed a sex discrimination suit on Coleman's behalf.
- The lawsuit states that the first menstrual leak occurred on Coleman's office chair in August 2015. She was sent home after reporting the incident to her supervisor, who warned that she would be fired for a second event. When the second leak happened, she was fired and told she lacked good hygiene and a presentable appearance.
- USA Today says the ACLU is suing on appeal and claims the Bobby Dodd Institute violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. A federal district court initially dismissed the suit but the plaintiffs have asked the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to revive the case.
While it's not yet clear whether Coleman will succeed in arguing that her termination was sex discrimination, employers need to exercise caution when taking adverse actions against employees. Discipline, termination and other actions can't be based on protected classes like gender, age or religion, for example. Employment law attorneys often recommend that, when a problem arises, employers focus only on job performance and conduct rules.
And front-line managers need to be trained to treat circumstances that potentially involve a medical aspect differently; in many workplaces, managers are instructed to refrain from getting too involved in those situations and are told to escalate questions to HR. The Coleman case alleges sex discrimination but similar fact patterns alleging disability discrimination (for example, an employee with narcolepsy fired for dozing off at work) have found success in the courts.
Also, HR may want to remind managers to attempt to default to empathy first when dealing with situations like this. A little understanding goes a long way toward employee engagement and retention.