Animosity isn’t always evidence of bias

People can be fired for any number of reasons, some of which might even seem unfair. That doesn’t automatically mean an employee will win if she sues her employer.

Workplaces are rarely perfectly harmonious. Supervisors may harbor deep animosity towards a particular worker. But unless that animosity is based on a protected characteristic such as race, sex or age, it remains merely unfair, not a case of discrimination.

Recent case: Catherine started her police career at Arcadia University as a part-time patrol officer. She earned promotion to full-time patrol officer. The campus police department then changed leadership, and a woman was hired to head it up.

She urged Catherine to apply for promotion to a newly created corporal position, which Catherine did. She got that job. Then Catherine applied for yet another promotion, to sergeant. A man was hired instead.

Over the next few years, it became apparent that Catherine had a falling out with her female supervisor, with animosity between them growing. Catherine was also written up a number of times for improperly managing her subordinates and for showing disrespect for her own superiors. It didn’t help that a highly critical email Catherine drafted about her female supervisor ended up in that supervisor’s inbox when Catherine accidentally sent it to her instead of the intended recipient.

Ultimately, Catherine lost her job in a reorganization.

She sued, alleging the move was orchestrated to get rid of her because of sex discrimination. She alleged that her female supervisor preferred male employees.

The university admitted the obvious animosity between the two women, but argued that this wasn’t proof that sex discrimination was the underlying reason for the termination. The court agreed and dismissed Catherine’s case. (McMullen v. Arcadia University, ED PA, 2018)

Final note: Courts don’t want to mediate personality conflicts.