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Double-Check discharge rationale if employee participated in FLSA action

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who file or participate in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) lawsuit are protected from retaliation. That’s why it’s important to carefully consider any disciplinary action and make certain that the decision is fair, consistent and based on solid business reasons.

Recent case: Rhonda Raspanti worked for Four Amigos Travel, fielding calls from customers responding to mailed vacation offers. When a co-worker filed an FLSA lawsuit, she joined the lawsuit. Seven months later, just after the case was settled, she was fired. Raspanti sued, alleging retaliation.

But Four Amigos was able to show that Raspanti was terminated along with other employees after Hurricane Wilma wreaked havoc on the vacation sales industry. Executives testified the company lost two-thirds of its revenue in the month after the hurricane, and therefore decided to eliminate employees who were “dead weight.”

The employees were selected on the basis of sales, post-sale cancellations and negative attitude. The company said Raspanti was one of those “dead weight” employees. The court ruled in favor of Four Amigos.

It helped Four Amigos that it could show sales and cancellation figures to substantiate its rankings. Plus, it also fired one of Raspanti’s co-workers with similar low sales and negative attitude who had opted out of the FLSA lawsuit. That lent credence to the company’s stated reasons and helped negate any inference that retaliation was at work. (Raspanti v. Four Amigos Travel, No. 07-12137, 11th Cir., 2008)

Final note: In this case, the employer didn’t rely on “negative attitude” alone to justify the discharge. That’s too subjective. Instead, it used objective, verifiable sales and cancellation figures. Plus, the company showed that even someone who had supported its position on the earlier lawsuit, but had a negative attitude, was canned.

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