Category: Wrongful Termination

Harassment

Sexual Harassment Bait & Switch – The Cat’s Paw Theory

The Cat’s Paw Theory. A phrase which might seem like a whimsical anecdote. But it’s not so whimsical when you are being sued on the basis of it. Empress Ambulance found out the actual meaning behind this phrase after being sued by a former employee. The plaintiff had been fired after the employers were persuaded to do so by another employee, (wrongful termination). In the case of Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance, the former employee of Empress Ambulance, Andrea Vasquez, filed a lawsuit against Empress Ambulance for retaliation when she was fired after reporting her co-worker for sexual harassment. Instead of taking action against the harasser, the employers let go of Vasquez. Her harasser had turned the situation around to make it look like she was in fact the one committing sexual harassment.

The Cat’s Paw Theory originates from a fable in which a monkey tricks a cat into retrieving some chestnuts from a fire for both of them to eat. When the cat does so, he burns his paws and is unable to eat the chestnuts while the monkey enjoys them without any injury. Here the “cat’s paw approach” applies to Empress Ambulance on the basis that they let themselves be coerced into dismissing the claims of sexual harassment that Vasquez made and instead believing Gray, the person who the allegations were against.

When Vasquez first reported Tyrell Gray to her supervisors, she was assured that the behavior was not tolerated by the company, and something would be done to stop it. While she waited for the issue to be investigated, Mr. Gray found out about the complaint and decided to figure out a way to avoid getting in trouble for his harassing behavior. First, he tried to persuade another fellow EMT to lie for him, but when that did not work he manipulated an inappropriate and sexually explicit conversation on his phone to appear as if Vasquez was the replying party. When he was questioned he had the evidence ready and told his supervisors that Vasquez and he were in consensual relationship. This prompted their supervisors to fire Vasquez due to the “evidence” Gray showed. Vasquez tried to dispute his allegations and show her own phone to prove that it was not true, but she was turned down. The subsequent case is based on the fact that their supervisors never fully investigated the initial complaint, or considered the issues with Gray’s quick evidence, and were so willing to blindly believe what he presented.

Even though the case had originally not been accepted by the District Court of New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the case on the basis that “an employee’s retaliatory intent may be imputed to an employer where, as alleged here, the employer’s own negligence gives effect to the employee’s retaliatory animus and causes the victim to suffer an adverse employment decision.” This means that even though the decision was made by a supervisor, the harasser was able to influence the decision with his false accusations and evidence, which the employers did not take the proper precautions to investigate. Nor did they look further into the intent that Gray had – making them negligent in their decision. The court concluded this due to the fact that the supervisors at Empress Ambulance should have given more thought into the evidence that Gray was handing over, as well as how quickly he did it when he was told that a sexual harassment claim had been made against him. Typically, anyone who learns that a negative claim has been made against them would deny it or have a bigger reaction. Empress should have been more diligent and thorough with their investigation. If they had taken the time to properly investigate this and look at the evidence that Vasquez showed, they would have been able to avoid this lawsuit and not made to look as though they are incapable of proper management.

defamation

Are you an employee taking legal action for the first time?

So you are a victim of your employer and wish to take legal action. You have just fallen into the category of an employee taking legal action for the first time! This can be very overwhelming, scary and stressful. This blog has been written to give you some idea on what to expect when you call us.

You must understand that being a lawyer is tough because in an ideal world, the job wouldn’t exist. On the flip side, it’s just as difficult being a prospective client or in need of legal services. No one WANTS to be in that position. But, the need does arise and so the legal services industry continues.

Something we hear all the time from prospective clients who are employees taking legal action for the first time, is that they were very nervous about calling us in the first place. This completely understandable! From the stereotype of the ruthless attorney to how legal action is portrayed in popular culture, there are tons of misconceptions about the process. We’re here to set the record straight, and help to put your mind at ease about what to expect.

  • Call (don’t drop in) the law firm to speak with someone about getting started.
    • Law firms are busy places. People are working hard on upwards of hundreds of cases at a time, depending on the size of the firm. All firms operate differently, but many places do not accept walk in clients for attorney consultation. Instead, you would want to call the firm ahead of time, and let them know you are a potential client. From there someone can assist you, usually with a short, confidential intake process over the phone. This is necessary to get all of the important details which the attorney will be using to evaluate your potential case. This information will then be passed on to an attorney for evaluation, and if they think your case is something the firm can assist you with, you will be scheduled for an in-person consultation with the attorney.*Tip: Be sure to ask ahead of time if there will be a consultation fee involved. Here at Aegis Law Firm, your initial consultation with the attorney is free!
  • A good attorney cares about customer service.
    • It’s one thing to be great at public speaking, convincing juries, or quoting the law off the top of your head. But another crucial part of what makes a great attorney is their ability to connect with the client. When it comes down to it, we are working for you! A lot of people think it’s the other way around. We are proud to serve you, and grateful that you chose our firm for assistance. For this reason, most attorneys are very approachable and want to make the process as easy for you as possible. So don’t sweat that initial meeting – we don’t bite!*Tip: Check out a firm’s web presence to get a sense of their customer service rating. Their website probably includes bios to let you know who you may be working with.
  • How the firm gets paid – hourly or contingency?
    • Typically, firms receive payment from one of two structures: hourly billing, or contingency. Hourly billing is pretty self-explanatory – the firm sets an amount to charge per hour and depending on how much time is spent on a matter that is how much the client pays. Contingency is when the firm does not take any money up front, and payment comes from a settlement obtained at the end. Either way, the amount is mutually agreed upon at the beginning of services, and included in a retainer document that both parties sign.
  • Will I have to go to court?
    • Each case is different, so unfortunately there’s no blanket answer to this question. Many people want to stand up for themselves, but are scared of having to participate in a trial or other court proceedings, especially employees taking legal action for the first time. What can be said, is that going to trial is usually the very last option. Most cases are settled before the lawsuit is even filed with the courts, which is beneficial to both sides. There are several avenues that attorneys may take in order to settle your case with the best result. However, in the event that you do need to go to court, your attorney will work closely with you to prepare you for any appearances you would need to make or address any concerns you have.

So there you have it! Nothing to be scared of, right? If you are an employee taking legal action for the first time, or perhaps you may have an employment issue that you wish to take action on, give our office a call today and we would be more than happy to help you get started!

Walmart whistleblower to receive $31.2mil settlement for wrongful termination

A New Hampshire woman by the name of Maureen McPadden was terminated from Walmart in 2012 – after 18 years of service to the retail mogul. You may be wondering, what could someone do to warrant termination after so many years with a company? Well, McPadden was terminated for (and here’s where it gets interesting) losing her pharmacy key…according to her former employers.

McPadden subsequently filed a lawsuit alleging her termination was actually the result of retaliation for whistleblowing, gender discrimination, and disability discrimination. The complaint alleges that McPadden made several complaints to management and outside entities that there were not enough properly trained employees to fill orders in a safe and efficient manner. However, all of her efforts were ignored. McPadden and her counsel assert that her protestations were part of the reason she was terminated, and management was looking for a reason, any reason, to get rid of her. Additionally, there was evidence that a male pharmacist also lost his key (after McPadden’s termination) but he received a “level one coaching”, while McPadden received a more severe punishment. Finally, McPadden’s termination occurred less than two months after she had returned from stress leave (during which, her manager announced the plaintiff’s prescription to co-workers, resulting in an additional charge of privacy violation).

After a five day trial, the verdict was announced in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her over $31mil. The breakdown is as follows:

“$15 million in punitive damages on her Title VII gender discrimination claim, and another $15 million in enhanced compensatory damages under the New Hampshire Law Against Discrimination (NHLAD). In addition, the jury awarded the pharmacist $164,093 in back pay, $558,392.87 in front pay, and $500,000 in compensatory damages. “

Walmart is no stranger to employment lawsuits – from wage and hour disputes, to discrimination and harassment allegations. The company is currently dealing with two other suits which claim the plaintiffs faced sex discrimination.

 

Sources: http://www.employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/walmart-pharmacist-fired-after-reporting-legal-and-safety-concerns-wins-31-2m-verdict/

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/01/29/maureen-mcpadden-walmart-lawsuit_n_9113684.html

 

Fox Sports Sued for Religious Discrimination by Former Football Analyst

Craig James is suing the Fox Sports network for religious discrimination after only days of employment. This is not the first time James has caused waves or found himself in litigation, but this time, he is the plaintiff.

On August 29, 2013, James was hired by the network and made one appearance, but just days later, he was terminated. James’ hiring came only months after he had lost the Texas Senate Primary during which he had made comments on gay marriage and homosexuality.

During the 2012 debates for the election, James opined that homosexuality was a choice and those who choose said life would “have to answer to the Lord for their actions. We should not give benefits to those civil unions.” James referred to the accepting of homosexuality as “our moral fiber…sliding down a slope that is going to be hard to stop if we don’t stand up with leaders who don’t go ride in gay parades.” James finished the election in fourth garnering only 3.6% of the vote.

Upon James’ termination from Fox Sports, the company stated that they had failed to “properly vet” James before he was hired by regional level executives. To further, the company reasoned that James was fired “based on the perception that he abused a previous on-air position to further a personal agenda,” referring to a 2009 incident outlined below.

James is suing the network for at least a $100,000 in damages due to “lost friends, business relationships, and numerous business opportunities as a result of Fox Sports’ actions.” He alleges that he has been blacklisted after an embarrassingly short stint with the regional affiliate of Fox Sports.

“The case is much bigger than me…I will not let Fox Sports trample my religious liberty…I intend to make sure Fox Sports knows they aren’t above the law,” James said in a prepared statement.

Fox Sports is vehemently defending itself against the suit, stating James’ termination had nothing to do with his religious beliefs. They reasserted their previous position when he was first separated from the company.

This isn’t the first time James had to engage in a legal battle. In 2009, during a college football commentary, he alleged that the coach of the Texas Tech football team, Mike Leach, was mistreating his son Adam. Adam was a receiver for the team. Mike Leach was terminated after the commentary, but filed a defamation lawsuit against both James and ESPN, the network that aired the commentary. However, it was dismissed.

Source: LA Times, Washington Post

Metrolink Employee Blows the Whistle

Last month, a former Metrolink employee sued them transportation provider for whistleblowing, retaliation, and wrongful termination claims. The employee, former chief auditor Barbara Manning, named the Southern California Regional Rail Authority in the suit. The other defendants included several local politicians and a state legislator.

Manning alleges that she and her audit team found several irregularities, including unapproved wire transfers of funds, discrepancies between cash collected and that reported, and unauthorized salary increases for security guards. The former audit lead called all these factors, “high fraud indicators” in her lawsuit.

She further alleges that Metrolink engaged in further unlawful behavior that put the train riders at risk. While the train provider had to cut back on jobs and increased others’ salaries, the lower presence of onboard guards resulted in an increase of assaults on riders.

After she reported her facts and findings to the board members, they accused her of “causing safety problems for the railroad.” Additionally, they falsely accused her of trying to issue fake and inaccurate reports. These accusations resulted in her eventual termination.

Manning alleges the Metrolink board fabricated issues and twisted her words to create pretext for her termination. One of the board members and a politician named in the suit called the claims “completely baseless” and intended to “seek my redress for malicious prosecution.”

Source: LA Times