PIP then RIF – A Workplace Sexual Harassment Case

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Ginger Pung began working for Regus Management Group in 1991, continuing to receive consistent positive reviews for her position as General Manager. Everything changed sometime in 2010-2011 when Area Director Scott Ravenscroft became her direct supervisor. Pung states that he pursued her, and eventually she succumbed to his advances. In 2012, the pair began a consensual sexual relationship. This fact alone did not constitute a case of workplace sexual harassment.

All was well until Spring of 2014 when Pung told Ravenscroft that she wanted to end the relationship. She states that Ravenscroft showed up at her house a few times, in attempts to re-initiate the relationship, but she refused.

After it became clear that their relationship was over, Pung states that Ravenscroft became “very controlling” at work, and his overall demeanor towards her changed. On June 4th 2014, the pair had a meeting where Ravenscroft threatened to put her on a “coaching plan”, allegedly because her “numbers were lacking”. A few days later on June 9th, Pung reported her prior relationship to an HR representative and made a formal complaint about the behavior of Ravenscroft. She explained that she had previously seen Regus use “coaching plans” as a tactic leading to the termination of employees, and she felt she was specifically being targeted by Ravenscroft due to her ending the relationship. On June 11th, she was interviewed over the phone by the HR representative, and made the complaint that his behavior was “borderline harassment”. Later that same day, Pung sent an email to the HR representative stating, “To be clear, Regus is now on record that there was a sexual relationship between my boss and I that I terminated. As a result, it is my opinion that I am being retaliated against by my coaching leading to termination.”

On June 23rd, HR concluded their investigation and stated they were “unable to substantiate whether there had been a sexual relationship between the two” but did find that his behavior had “created an appearance of improper conduct”. As a result, Ravenscroft was given a warning and told that if his behavior continued, he would be terminated. While Ravenscroft was to continue overseeing Pung for day to day matters, the responsibility of evaluating her performance was transferred to the Regional Vice President, Jeff Bowron.

After this change, Pung made another complaint to HR for “failing to prevent further harassment”, due to her still reporting to Ravenscroft on a daily basis. She testified that after this additional complaint, his behavior towards her deteriorated even further and she wasn’t the only one who noticed it. Allegedly, other co-workers stated that he was “making harsh and demeaning comments to [her] in emails and calling her questions ‘stupid’ during conference calls”.

Pung later provided evidence that on August 25th, Ravenscroft attempted to deliver a Corrective Action Record to her. The CAR was based on an “asserted drop in sales in June and July 2014. Despite a copy bring produced and shown to Ravenscroft, he testified that he “couldn’t recall the document or discussing her performance [that] August”.

Business seemed to continue as usual, until December. Pung was planning a party for clients, when she reached out to Ravenscroft via email and asked if there was a specific company guideline or formula to determine the budget for one of these parties. He replied and said that while there was no company issued guideline for budget, she should keep her party under $250 total. Ultimately, Pung spent about $560 on the party. Ravenscroft “thought this was expensive”, and reported the information to Bowron. When Bowron approached Pung about the spending, she told him that she didn’t feel the $250 was appropriate for the size of the party (about 100 people were expected to attend), nor did she think she had to follow this budget as it wasn’t supported by any company policy. She argued that “guidelines for this type of client spending were neither enforced nor generally known, and that $150 of the $560 spent was for poinsettias for the lobby”.

The following month, Bowron decided to place Pung on a Performance Improvement Plan due to the holiday overspending. Shortly after, the company implemented a Reduction in Force on February 2nd. Pung was terminated as part of the RIF. After the separation, Pung filed a lawsuit under Title VII and the Minnesota Human Rights Act for sexual harassment and retaliation.

She argued that her termination was the direct result of the unfair holiday budget imposed upon her by Ravenscroft, who did not hold anyone else to this standard. She was not aware of anyone else in the company being written up or otherwise punished for spending over any given amount, and additionally, she had thrown similar parties in the past without any repercussions.

Despite her hostile work environment claim being recently dismissed on December 21st, 2017, the rest of Pung’s claims have survived Summary Judgement and may continue to trial.

 

Sources:

http://www.employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/employee-pip-then-rif-after-ending-consensual-affair-advances-quid-pro-quo-harassment-claim/

http://hr.cch.com/ELD/PungRegus122117.pdf

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