Courts don’t like it when employees are treated unfairly. On the other hand, judges don’t want to serve as HR courts, either. That’s why they generally defer todecisions that seem fair and honest.
Judges prefer it when employers investigate allegations of employee wrongdoing before they fire someone—but they don’t require that the investigation be perfect.
Recent case: Ford Motor Co. employee Michael Carson suffered from ulcerative colitis, and eventually had to have his colon removed. As a result, he needed ready access to a restroom.
It took awhile for Ford to find Carson a job that could accommodate his needs. Finally, he was placed in a cleaning position that let him move around the plant.
One day, an administrative assistant arrived early at work and thought she heard the sound of drawers opening and closing behind her supervisor’s door. She entered and saw Carson shutting a drawer. Carson left and the assistant contacted the supervisor, who requested an immediate investigation.
During an interview, Carson claimed he had been preparing to shred papers in the office, but had brought the wrong bin. The supervisor fired Carson, believing he had been searching desk drawers, perhaps looking for valuables.
Carson sued, alleging he had been fired because he was disabled and in retaliation for demanding reasonable accommodations.
The court tossed out his case. It said he couldn’t show that Ford had treated him differently than any other employee it had disciplined or that the investigation had been a sham. All evidence pointed to an honest conclusion that Carson had been involved in some sort of wrongdoing. (Carson v. Ford Motor Company, No. 09-1853, 6th Cir., 2011)
- Apply consistent policy on employee searches, and get written OK first
- Casual question about bias isn't protected activity
- Sometimes, accommodating disability just isn't possible
- Outrageous behavior? Don't fear fast discipline
- When computing employee pay, are we allowed to round off employee working hours?