- A housekeeper at Temple University failed to support his claim that he was illegally fired for being Baptist, or in retaliation for taking Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave (Darby v. Temple University, No. 18-3046 (3rd Cir. Dec. 4, 2019)).
- Maurice Darby wore a cross necklace, read the bible on his breaks and spoke openly about attending church services. But the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said there was insufficient evidence to infer that his co-workers knew about his religious affiliation or — even more important — that the supervisor who fired him did.
- Additionally, while Darby was on FMLA leave, he allegedly came to campus and threatened another employee. Temple conducted an investigation that included examining video evidence and interviewing all involved parties, and concluded that Darby had violated university policy. Accordingly, the 3rd Circuit affirmed a district court's summary judgment ruling in favor of Temple.
While an adverse employment action that occurs soon after, or during, a protected leave can appear suspicious, employers that act for legitimate reasons and have good documentation are often able to mount an effective defense.
Additionally, HR should investigate serious complaints promptly and thoroughly, experts say — even if they don't initially seem valid. While some beefs are legitimately too small to worry about, Pavneet Singh Uppal of Fisher Phillips LLP said during a recent Society for Human Resource Management conference, allegations that could eventually make their way to court should always be investigated.
It may seem counterintuitive, but some say HR should actually encourage employees to voice their concerns, so they can be looked into and resolved. If employees are afraid to complain, bad behavior is driven underground and will continue to occur and fester.
Outside counsel can be brought in for particularly sensitive or high-stakes issues (for example, a sexual harassment complaint involving the company CEO), but most of the time, HR is fully competent to conduct investigations on its own. Interviews should be thorough, balanced and well-documented, and all parties involved should be apprised of the conclusion.