How Far Will an Employer Go to Defend Claims of Discrimination?

In employment discrimination cases, the employee has the initial burden of proving his or her claims. If that is accomplished, the employer is then required to defend their actions and show that those actions were not a result of discrimination. As the employer is usually the party with access and control of the relevant documents and other evidence, the employee is often at a disadvantage in obtaining evidence. Another disadvantage is the reality that some employers choose to doctor the records in order to hide the truth or to create an issue that wasn't really there. In a very recent Seventh Circuit case out of Wisconsin, Gosey v Aurora Medical Center, decided on April 11, 2014, an employer was caught doing just that.

Claims of race discrimination

The plaintiff in that case, Tina Gosey, was an African-American employee at the Aurora Medical Center. After being denied a promotion that was given to a Caucasian employee, then being assigned extra duties, and unfairly subjected to discipline, she complained to management. One specific complaint was that someone had altered her attendance records to make her appear tardy. Two months after she complained, she was terminated. Her lawsuit was dismissed on summary judgment, but on appeal before the Seventh Circuit, the Court took a closer look at the evidence relating to her time records.

The employer's explanation for the termination

The employer argued that Gosey was terminated pursuant to the attendance policy included in the employee handbook. The policy states that after an employee has been formally warned about tardiness, and that employee is late on four subsequent occasions, that can be grounds for termination.

There was a dispute about when an employee was actually tardy. One of the medical center's former officers testified that, in the food services department where Gosey worked, the employees were all given an informal, seven-minute grace period at the beginning of a shift. So, on all but one occasion when Gosey was allegedly tardy, she was actually on time based on the common practice in that department.

Inconsistencies with the employee's time records raised red flags

The evidence the employer submitted to prove Gosey's alleged tardiness was a printout of the Gosey's computerized "punch detail history." The employees, including Gosey, were required to punch into the company's computerized system when they arrive. An employee cannot punch in more than once.

However, on eight of the days her employer asserted she was tardy, the punch detail history showed that she had more than one arrival time. One of those times was before her scheduled start time and the other occurred after. The employer did not offer evidence of any explanation for the two time punches. Gosey, however, submitted an affidavit explaining that it was impossible for her to "swipe in" to the attendance system a second time. This discrepancy clearly pointed to manipulation of the time entries in an effort to justify her termination.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the summary judgment ruling in favor of the employer in this case, and remanded the case for trial on the termination claim. The medical center will likely have an uphill battle in this case, trying to not only justify its decision to terminate the employee, but also its actions in unsuccessfully manipulating the time records.

If you believe you are the victim of employment discrimination or you have questions about your employment rights or possible legal claims, contact Wrady & Michel, LLC either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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