Firing A Disgruntled Employee Can Be Costly
Jennifer Taylor was a senior sales executive for Republic Services, Inc., a national waste management company. She made a series of complaints that a number of high ranking executives had made sexual advances towards her, and that others had made a series of inappropriate sexual comments or made crude remarks about her to co-workers. She complained to the appropriate personnel in the HR department, and an investigation was commenced. In the meantime, she began to receive critical performance evaluations and criticisms even though the she was meeting or exceeding her sales goals. Forty-two days after making the complaint, Taylor was fired.
Taylor sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that among other things, she had been subjected to a hostile work environment, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment. She also alleged she had been fired in retaliation for making complaints that she was entitled to make under the law. Republic denied Taylor’s claims and argued that she had been fired because her performance was substandard.
The case was tried as a bench trial (i.e. no jury) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. In a highly detailed, 60 page written opinion, the trial court found Ms. Taylor could not substantiate many of her allegations. Other claims that were proved, while showing inappropriate conduct, did not rise to the standard of misconduct the law was intended to prohibit. Of course, if that was the end of the matter, we wouldn’t be writing about this case.
The court also found that even though Ms. Taylor had not proved her claims that she had been exposed to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment or gender discrimination, she was nonetheless legally entitled to file a complaint with Republic’s HR department without fear of retribution. The court found that even though she could not meet the evidentiary requirements required by Title VII, her complaints to HR were made in good faith. Finding that Republic’s testimony that Taylor was terminated due to poor performance was “less than credible,” the court held that Taylor had, indeed been terminated in retaliation for making claims about the conduct of male executives in the company.
As yet another example of winning the battle and the losing the war, Republic has been ordered to pay damages to Taylor of more than of $1.2 million for back pay, loss of future earnings, and compensatory damages. Based on the court’s description of what occurred, one can only wonder if it would have been better for Republic if it hired men in the executive ranks who were not clueless about working with women.