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Overturning human rights commission decisions is an uphill battle

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in Human Resources

When defending the termination of an employee who has filed a complaint with a local human rights commission, you must take the commission’s process seriously. Always get your attorney involved early, so you can defend yourself during the crucial initial stages.

And don’t count on getting the commission’s findings overturned on appeal. Indiana courts have shown they won’t readily overrule commission conclusions.

Recent case: Harriett Layne, who is black, worked for Whirlpool for eight years with no disciplinary problems. Her troubles began one day when she left the plant without permission to have lunch with a co-worker. Whirlpool wrote her up for that infraction.

A few months later, Layne came to work late due to her daughter’s illness. The child had been sick for two days and had stayed home from school. Layne’s doctor faxed a note to the company explaining the daughter had an appointment that afternoon, thereby excusing Layne to leave early. But Layne missed the appointment because it took her longer to get home than she thought and her daughter was feeling better.

The medical clinic informed Whirlpool that Layne hadn’t shown up for the appointment, and the company fired her for fabricating a reason to leave work.

Layne complained to the Vanderburgh County-City of Evansville Human Relations Commission. The commission investigated and concluded Whirlpool’s stated reason was factually wrong. It ordered back pay and reinstatement for Layne. Whirlpool appealed.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana refused to overturn the decision. It said administrative agency decisions should be the final say unless they acted arbitrarily or capriciously or made a decision unsupported by the evidence, among other limited reasons. (Whirlpool v. Vanderburgh County-City of Evansville Human Relations Commission, No. 82A04-0703-CV-165, Court of Appeals of Indiana, 2007)

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