Want to drive out litigious employees? $7.5 million is the going rate
A perfect Case in Point this month: Execs at a Virginia Beach time-share company effectively froze out (and then fired) the sales manager after she contacted the EEOC about filing a discrimination charge. The damage: $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages … a whopping $7.5 million total.
The background: Pamela Depaoli was a very successful sales manager for a
When the director position again opened up, Depaoli saw her opening. She inquired, but a male was hired again. That sent her over the edge. She filed an EEOC claim for sex and age discrimination, plus retaliation. Eventually, the company fired her. (Depaoli v. Vacation Sales Associates LLC, 4th Cir., 6/12/07)
Why did she claim retaliation? Depaoli was able to produce a long list of alleged slights and unwise comments, including:
said her sales records dropped radically after her second contact with
the EEOC. She had a strong suspicion the company was manipulating her
prospects, giving her only the most difficult ones to close.
- The president allegedly declared, “I am not going to have any lawsuits on my watch.”
president allegedly requested to have Depaoli undergo “closer
supervision” than other managers. When others said this would cause her
to quit, the president said that’s exactly what he hoped she’d do “for
going to the EEOC.”
- A vice president told Depaoli, “If you didn’t start an investigation with the EEOC, you would have gotten that in-house director position.” He also threatened another employee that they would “end up like Pam Depaoli” (fired) if they went to the EEOC.
Lessons Learned … Without Going to Court
- Don’t mess with employees who’ve made EEOC inquiries or filed charges.
Enough said. They know their rights (as do their lawyers) and how to
report you further. Threatening or firing them will simply become more
grits for their lawsuit.
- Don’t announce that jobs are eliminated and then fill them. It sounds fishy and that’s what courts are looking for to determine whether your actions were a “pretext” for discrimination.
- Proactively train presidents, vice presidents and all in charge on the EEO laws. An effective EEO training course for the big bosses would have made them more aware of the dangers of their overt actions and statements. It could have prevented them from doing and saying stupid things. Any training initiative would have cost less than the jury verdict (later reduced because of caps), time spent defending the lawsuit, attorney fees ($163,000 paid by the defendant) and loss of reputation.