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Hostile e-mail was grounds for firing, federal court finds

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in Business Etiquette,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources,Workplace Communication

Pamela Stoney worked as a sales manager for Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless (subsequently AT&T) in Colorado. In early June 2004, Stoney began disputing her team’s sales quotas with her supervisor. At the same time, the supervisor asked all sales managers to reconcile sales and file appeals over any errors by July 8.

When Stoney didn’t deliver a reconciliation report for her team and then went on vacation during the last week of June, the supervisor began reconciling the accounts herself. During the first week of July, the supervisor called Stoney to gather extensive information needed to complete the reconciliation. Stoney later said the supervisor screamed at her for two to three hours about the report.

On July 7, the supervisor e-mailed a performance improvement plan (PIP) to Stoney. Stoney e-mailed the PIP to all the sales managers who reported to the supervisor, plus all of her own reports. The accompanying e-mail read, “I take exception. That you held me hostage on the phone for 3 hours last evening and, again, 45 minutes this morning, were clear indicators of harassment and abuse.”

The company fired her for insubordination. Stoney filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD), claiming age and gender discrimination and retaliation.

The CCRD rejected Stoney’s claims, finding that had she “responded to her PIP with professional etiquette and taken responsibility for her shortcomings, she would still be employed” at Cingular.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado agreed. Cingular’s written discipline policies reinforced Stoney’s at-will status, reserving the company’s “sole discretion to impose any form of corrective action that it believes appropriate.”

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