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It depends on how you define ‘Overheard’

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

A manager with vision trouble filed suit against CNN in Atlanta, alleging she was fired because of her disability. She lost because apparently her hearing was a little too good.

In 2000, doctors diagnosed the manager with lupus and acute keratoconus, a related condition that left her nearly blind in both eyes. In 2001, CNN promoted her to a unit manager position. The woman requested and received numerous accommodations between 2000 and 2004, including leaves of absence, a modified work schedule, a large computer monitor, an audio device for her computer and an office with a window for natural light.

In 2005, the unit manager e-mailed two employees about a pay error. Included in the message were details about each employee’s pay. HR e-mailed back, warning that pay information should be kept confidential.

Later that day, senior management met to discuss a pending reorganization. The unit manager did not attend. During the meeting, the pay-error e-mail came up, along with concerns about the unit manager’s history of sharing confidential information with staff.

Shortly after the meeting, the unit manager approached her supervisor, asking why her performance had come up at the meeting. When the supervisor asked her how she knew about it, she admitted she had “overheard” the conversation. CNN fired her for “inappropriate behavior.” She sued.

In court, the woman denied that she listened to the conversation, but admitted she “heard” it. In fact, she heard a lot, as she was able to recount the contents of the entire meeting. The court found no basis for discrimination, noting CNN’s numerous accommodations for her disability. The court also noted that “in order to hear” the conversation, the woman “had to have listened.” 

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