Did old rap sheet lead to firing and another appearance in court?

Sometimes it takes awhile for a company to find out how well an employee is going to work out. For example, it took Guardian Alarm Company of Michigan 21 years to figure out that Ronald Schocker wasn’t a good fit. Now a judge has said, “Wait a minute!”

Schocker was originally hired for a sales position with Guardian back in 1987. Shortly after, the company says it learned that Schocker had been convicted of felony breaking-and-entering.

When asked about the conviction, Schocker explained that a relatively minor infraction involving a landlord-tenant dispute gave him a criminal record. Guardian decided to keep him on.

Fast-forward to fall 2005. By then Schocker had risen through the ranks to a supervisory position. One of his employees began to complain to Schocker about sexual advances by Matthew Fraiberg, a Guardian vice president. Eventually the harassment became too much for the employee and she submitted her resignation. Schocker allegedly discussed this with Fraiberg, who said he had been joking around.

On the day the employee left the company, Fraiberg called Schocker to a meeting with Schocker’s supervisor. Fraiberg said the employee had told him she was leaving because Schocker was a bad manager. Schocker denied this and reiterated the harassment complaints about Fraiberg. An HR director later joined the meeting and confirmed that the employee had told her she was resigning over Fraiberg’s harassment.

Two months later, in December 2006, Guardian cut Schocker’s pay retroactive to July. The company then promoted one of Schocker’s subordinates to take over his commercial business.

On April 17, Schocker informed Guardian he had filed a retaliation charge with the EEOC. On April 19, his supervisor fired him because, he said, the company was going in another direction.

When Schocker’s EEOC complaint made it to court, Guardian argued it fired him for poor performance. It also argued that his employment had been illegal anyway because of the criminal charges.

Not so fast, the court ruled. First, the company could not nullify the entire employment relationship based on criminal charges it had disregarded more than 20 years ago. Second, Guardian shifted the reasons for Schocker’s termination. But it was the timing of Schocker’s firing—just two days after he informed Guardian of his EEOC charge—that set off the court’s alarms. Schocker’s case is heading to trial.