It seems logical: During an unemployment compensation hearing, if you can prove an employee engaged in misconduct, she shouldn’t be able to successfully sue for employment discrimination later. That’s not true.
Recent case: Linda Thomas, who is black, was fired from her state job processing welfare benefits. She had approved welfare payments for relatives who weren’t entitled to benefits.
When Thomas applied for unemployment, the state turned her down because the welfare agency proved she had been fired for misconduct. (Eventually, things got even worse for Thomas, who was convicted in state court on criminal charges of welfare fraud.)
Thomas sued, alleging she had really been terminated because of her race.
The state agency tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. After all, during the unemployment compensation process, it had proven Thomas was guilty of misconduct.
But the court said the agency couldn’t block Thomas’ lawsuit solely on the basis of the unemployment compensation denial or her criminal conviction. The agency still had to show it terminated her for a legitimate reason. (Thomas v. Louisiana, No. 10-30607, 5th Cir., 2010)
Final note: Ultimately, the court dismissed the lawsuit when Thomas couldn’t show that the agency had used her misconduct as a pretext for race discrimination.
Lesson learned: Don’t assume you won’t have to defend against a discrimination lawsuit just because you win the unemployment compensation case. Retain all records, just in case you need them in court later.
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