- A Target employee alleging retaliation offered no support for her "bald assertion" that her manager framed her for marijuana possession, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded, declining to revive her Title VII lawsuit (Jones v. Target Corporation, No. 18-1159 (2nd Cir. Nov. 22, 2019)).
- The employee, Nicole Jones, was fired for possessing marijuana on store property, in violation of Target policy. The HR employee who fired Jones reviewed a security video that showed her dropping a bag of marijuana in the staff locker room; he also confirmed that no other employee had interacted with the bag and that it did contain marijuana. There was no merit, said the 2nd Circuit, to Jones' allegation that her supervisor framed her in retaliation for an earlier complaint. Accordingly, the appeals court upheld a lower court's summary judgment dismissing her lawsuit.
- In a statement shared with HR Dive, Target said this ruling signaled its broader approach to misconduct and discrimination. "At Target, we take allegations of employee misconduct seriously and don't tolerate workplace discrimination of any kind. We're pleased that the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling to dismiss this claim."
When an employee engages in misconduct shortly after engaging in protected activity, managers and HR may be understandably concerned about doling out discipline. But while such situations may require an extra look from HR, employers generally remain free to discipline employees, experts say.
In fact, even and consistent policy enforcement can prevent future discrimination claims. Similarly, manager training and strong documentation can be key to an employer's defense in such situations.
Additionally, Jones may serve as a reminder for employers to review and evaluate their substance abuse policies. Marijuana remains an illegal Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, but many states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and even recreational use — and new laws are being passed all the time. But even in jurisdictions with relaxed rules on marijuana, employers are not required to tolerate conduct, performance or safety issues, experts say.
Some employers are relaxing their own rules and rethinking drug testing, however, finding that in today's job market, companies can't afford to rule out such a large segment of potential candidates.