The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said it fired Steve Barto from his job as an environmental group manager because he intimidated employees, used racial slurs and behaved erratically.
When Barto sued the DEP for allegedly violating his civil rights, he painted a different picture. Barto said he was fired in retaliation for warning officials that the nonprofit Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful organization was improperly spending $525,000 in DEP grants.
He said DEP’s eventual decision to cut off funding to the group vindicated his suspicions.
A federal jury didn’t agree. In court, DEP showed that Barto had been suspended several months before his termination for making racial slurs to a black employee. The department presented testimony from several employees who told of Barto’s intimidation and bullying.
And his former boss testified that the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful program ended for policy reasons, not because of any mismanagement.
Advice: Thinking about disciplining or terminating an employee who has alleged wrongdoing on your organization’s part? First have your attorney review the situation in light of whistle-blower protection laws that may apply to your industry.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Whistle-blower law insulates noncomplaining workers, too
- Best bet: Always investigate hostile environment claims
- Another reason to keep good records: Proving when you made decision to terminate
- Any stereotypes of workers--even positive ones--can spark discrimination lawsuits