- An HR manager alleging retaliation should have her claims heard by a jury, a federal district court judge has determined (Donald v. Plus4 Credit Union, No. 4:16-cv-00123 (S.D. Texas)).
- The manager was told to hire only white employees and also was instructed to fire a black employee because of his race, she alleged in a lawsuit. After refusing, the HR department — which included the plaintiff and one other employee — was eliminated.
- The judge dismissed several other claims that the HR manager filed, but said that a jury should consider whether she was fired in retaliation for opposing a practice that violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A trial is no guarantee that the HR manager will succeed on her claims, but as many employment law defense attorneys will attest, businesses rarely want these cases to end up in front of a jury. It's also possible a jury will never hear the case, as most employment claims that survive summary judgment, as this one did, are settled outside of court.
Still, the fact pattern speaks volumes about the need for training — and not just lip service. According to court documents, the HR manager says she brought her concerns to the employer's counsel, who said he would conduct leadership and diversity classes with management, "but no such classes were conducted."
Finally, HR professionals should remember that employment laws don't all treat HR the same. The employer in this case argued that the HR manager's actions couldn't be protected activity because of the "manager rule," a legal theory generally used in Fair Labor Standards Act cases. It refers to the fact that a management employee who performs routine duties isn't protected just by disagreeing with her employer's actions. Instead, "an employee must cross the line from being an employee ‘performing her job ... to an employee lodging a personal complaint,'" according to court documents. The judge didn't accept the employer's "manager rule" argument here because the controlling appellate court has not applied the rule in Title VII claims, but businesses certainly have had success with it in wage and hour claims.
Taking things a step further, a court hearing a Family and Medical Leave Act case recently refused to dismiss a suit filed against an HR director, holding that she could be individually liable in the case.