Category: Wrongful Termination

City of San Francisco Getting a Hefty Bill

Kelly O’ Haire joined the San Francisco Police Department in 2006 as an attorney. She had previously served for ten years as a deputy district attorney in Marin County. At the time of her hire with the SFPD, the department was headed by Police Chief Heather Fong.

In 2009, a deputy police chief, Greg Suhr received a call from a female friend who alleged that her boyfriend had battered and chocked her. While Suhr encouraged her to make a formal police complaint, he failed to comply with the SFPD’s policy since he did not attempt to arrest the female friend’s boyfriend.

Enter O’Haire, whose prime responsibility was handling disciplinary cases for the department. She filed a complaint with the Police Commission; in her findings, she urged the department to fire Suhr because the situation was handled poorly. Suhr had a previous record from a criminal charge involving an assault and battery cover up by off-duty police officers. Suhr was demoted by Police Chief Fong.

During the pending disciplinary case against Suhr, Fong retired her post. She was replaced by George Gascó who was elected district attorney two years later. In 2011, Suhr was back in the hierarchy and appointed police chief by the mayor.

O’Haire alleged that once Suhr transitioned into the leadership role, he swiftly retaliated against her for filing that report in 2009. Suddenly, O’Haire was disciplined for bad performance to the point of her termination. She was shamed in the last weeks at her employment; the city’s attorneys accused that she had no legal basis for bringing a claim against Suhr for wrongdoing in 2009.

After years in negotiations and litigation, the city chose to settle the case right before jury selections were set to begin. San Francisco agreed to pay O’Haire a settlement of $725,000 but did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Robbed at Gunpoint, Pregnant, and Not Getting Paid Properly

A manager of a Houston Popeye’s was terminated by the franchise owner for getting robbed at gunpoint. The manager, Marissa Holcomb, was working her shift when a masked gunman jumped the counter, forcefully knocked another employee to the ground, and held Holcomb at gunpoint, demanding money.

Holcomb handed over $400 cash. The gunman promptly fled after receiving the money. The restaurant owner, Amin Dhanani, was not happy about the incident. He alleged it was Holcomb’s fault that much money was taken because she had failed to follow company policy and kept too much money in the cash register. Holcomb responded by saying the restaurant was too busy to allow the transition to take place.  The owner gave her choice—be fired or pay the money back. Dhanani fired Holcomb three days later, stating it was not her first offense.

Holcomb is pregnant with her 4th child. “I just had a gun to me. I’m not paying the money.” Not too long after, Dhanani realized his mistake—he had just terminated a pregnant woman after she was robbed at gunpoint.

Dhanani offered Holcomb her job back, but she refused, even after he graciously threw in another $2,000 for back pay (so that meant she wasn’t getting paid right either). She wanted to move on from a place that would do things like terminate employees after a robbery.

Source: Grub Street

Major Awards in Los Angeles Discrimination Case

Luz Hessler worked in the Los Angeles County Department of Health until April 2012. Her story of disability discrimination, racial discrimination, and harassment began in September 2008 after she sustained a work related injury.

Hessler alleged that her manager slammed a door into her knee that resulted in a necessary knee surgery. She further alleged that there was a culture of ongoing discrimination and harassment based on her Mexican heritage and accent from her co-worker Raquel Paxton. Due to the knee injury, Hessler took a leave of absence from work to take care of the surgery.

Plaintiff returned in July 2009. As expected, she had physical work restrictions and accommodations, but more surprisingly Hessler came back to work with psychological restrictions to limit the hostile work environment that she had experienced before. Paxton, the co-worker who was allegedly responsible for the harassment and hostility, took up the mantle once more. Paxton continuously accused Hessler of faking her injury and convinced other employees that Hessler was a fake.

While plaintiff claims the County of LA did little to nothing to properly investigate the abuse, the defendants’ counsel provided evidence that Paxton had been disciplined for her behavior. In response, plaintiff stated the County had given Paxton numerous verbal and informal warnings, but it never culminated into anything of substance. Eventually, in April of 2012, Hessler had to stop working for the County because they would not abide by her accommodations.

Hessler filed her lawsuit initially on April 12, 2013. Though it was a long road for Hessler and her attorneys to trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. She was awarded $154,040 in damages alone, since her worker’s compensation case took care of her medical expenses. The attorneys, meanwhile, were awarded $1.28 million.

Hooters to Pay Large Award to Blonde Waitress

Hooters, infamous for its continuous litigation and moral debates on how women are portrayed in their company, has been handed another judgement against them. This time, a restaurant manager made the company liable for a $250,000 award for making snarky comments about a female employees’—wait for it—highlights.

The employee, who is African American, had blonde highlights in her hair. The manager of the restaurant fired her for having those highlights, informing her that “black people don’t have blonde hair” and that they could not allow her to work with a “skunk streak” on top of her head. Hooters has an image standard policy that requests servers maintain a “girl next door” look. It is applied evenly regardless of race.

Hooters has responded to the award decision, slamming both the employee’s attorneys and the arbitrator who presided over the case. The company, who had an African American senior brand manager respond to the outcome, alleged the arbitrator was biased against the company from the beginning and that plaintiff’s counsel purposefully refused settling early so that attorneys’ fees could be maximized, while the employee received only a fraction of the award. The plaintiff is sent to receive just shy of $12,000 with the attorneys laying claim to the rest. The company furthered commented that Hooters has, in no way, a discriminatory policy against African Americans. In fact, some of their most recent “Miss Hooters International” pageants have crowned African American women.

Companies have isolated incidents that can support a racial discrimination claim. While the entire company does not have any written discriminatory policies, it takes one middle manager of the company to lay the foundations of a discrimination lawsuit. In this case, it was the manager of the restaurant that made an off the cuff comment that got the company in trouble. Additionally, since the award was determined in arbitration, it’s binding—meaning no longer negotiable. An appeal of the judgement may be in the works from the company.

Sources: ABA Journal & Hooters News

Can You be Fired for Speaking to the Press?

January proved to be a particularly important month for many states this year. That was the month that new minimum wage hikes took place—in fact 20 states saw adjustments in their employees’ base earnings. On state, Arkansas, increased their minimum wage from $7.25 an hour up to $7.50 per hour.

Shanna Tippen was one of those workers in Arkansas that looked forward to the twenty-five cent wage hike. Tippen worked for the Days Inn and Suites in Pine Bluff, AR and expressed to a Washington Post reporter that she was grateful for the $2 per day raise. That nominal amount, up to $520 annually, would allow her to purchase name brand diapers for her grandson that did not irritate his skin.

The motel worker hoped in the article that she could one day find another job that wouldn’t make her feel so strapped for cash but for now, she was content staying in where she worked. Her boss, the general manager, was also quoted in the article criticizing the minimum wage hike.

Since then, another article has been published about Tippen—this time describing her termination from the motel. Tippen was allegedly fired by the general manager for speaking to the reporter at the Post. Though she did not say anything negative about her employer, it seems her employer found her involvement in the article reason enough to terminate her.

What if this had happened in California? Though it is unfortunate and very unfair, California is still an at-will state. The employer does have the ability to terminate an employee for any reason. However, if Tippen had engaged in a protected activity—maybe even complained to the reporter that her employer was not paying her minimum wage—then perhaps she could have been involved in a protected activity. At that point, she may have had a reason to pursue him legally.

Source: Washington Post