- A Michigan firefighter lost his job because he over reported his hours, not because he filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or because of his religion, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled (Hudson v. City of Highland Park, Michigan, et al., No. 19-1036 (6th Cir., Nov. 22, 2019)).
- After 13 years with the Highland Park Fire Department, Peter Hudson was terminated for alleged timesheet fraud. Hudson sued, claiming the termination was pretext for religious discrimination; he was known for criticizing co-worker conduct he found immoral and his fellow firefighters responded by criticizing his faith. He also alleged the firing was related to his OSHA complaint.
- On appeal from a lower court, the 6th Circuit noted that Hudson had never received fewer assignments or worse assignments because of his religious beliefs, nor did he stop going on fire runs because of the way his colleagues treated him. "All Hudson can show are periodic rude comments from his co-workers, which generally do not suffice," the court said. Moreover, the employer put forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for his termination, it concluded.
Protected activity such as safety or harassment complaints do not insulate employees from separate discipline, although experts say HR should carefully review plans to discipline an employee who recently engaged in such activity as it can be suggestive of bias or retaliation.
When employers have a legitimate, non-discriminatory and well-documented reason for taking an adverse employment action against a worker, they have a strong defense if the aggrieved worker takes them to court. Lowe's, for example, recently defeated a worker's allegations of age and disability bias because it was able to show legitimate business reasons for the employee's transfer to a new store and investigations into his conduct.
HR also should ensure that employees who violate policies experience the same disciplinary actions. In the instant case, Hudson had alleged that he was treated differently than an atheist co-worker who was overpaid, but the employer was able to show that the co-worker had not engaged in misconduct; rather, he was accidentally paid for time spent on military leave.