Tuesday, March 17, 2015

When loose lips sink defense ships

“So, what is is, your job or your daughter?” That one question cost an employer summary judgment in its employee’s associational disability discrimination case, in Manon v. 878 Education, LLC (S.D.N.Y. 3/4/15) [pdf].

The employee in question, a school receptionist, had attendance issues relative to her care for her infant with Reactive Airway Disease. During her 132 days of work, she arrived late 27 times, left early 54 times, and was absent another 17 times, batting .258—passable for a second baseman, but well below the employment Mendoza Line. Nevertheless, with the exception of one verbal tardiness warning, her personnel file was devoid of any documentation of attendance issues.

When Manon returned to work following a two-day absence to care for her daughter, who had been hospitalized with breathing issues, her supervisor told her that he was letting her go. The reason? “How can you guarantee me that two weeks from now your daughter is not going to be sick again? …So, what is it, your job or your daughter?”

Based on that statement, the court denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment, leaving the employer two options to resolve the case—a settlement or a risky jury trial.

It goes without saying that discrimination is wrong. Maybe the lesson here is that if you are ignorant enough to fire someone because of their caregiving needs at home, maybe it is asking too much to expect you to know enough not to express that intent out loud.