Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Maternity leave does not guarantee continued employment

By Grand Parc CC BY 2.0 via Wiki Commons
Michelle Bailey worked in the human resources department of Oakwood Healthcare. During her maternity leave, her immediate supervisor and others assumed her responsibilities, and discovered certain deficiencies in how she performed her job.

Discovery of those deficiencies led the supervisor to review Bailey’s qualifications as set forth in her employment application. That review, in turn, uncovered an application Bailey had submitted for a different position at Oakwood two years earlier. A comparison of Bailey’s two resumés on file lead to the conclusion that Bailey had falsified her later application by exaggerating her prior experience and qualifications.

That discovery, coupled with the performance deficiencies, caused Oakwood to terminate Bailey’s employment upon her return from maternity leave.

In Bailey v. Oakwood Healthcare [pdf], the 6th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Bailey’s discrimination and retaliation lawsuit.
Bailey … does not, deny that the application contained inaccuracies. “Falsifications,” however, is too strong, she says. Bailey prefers to characterize the inaccuracies as, at worst, mere “embellishments” of the time periods and job titles of positions she held at Beaumont Hospital.…  
The district court was not persuaded. After summarizing the relevant discrepancies identified by Oakwood and finding Bailey’s characterization “more than a little disingenuous,” the court concluded that resumé misrepresentation by a senior human resources professional could reasonably be deemed sufficiently egregious to defy correction by mere counseling or other lesser discipline.… We find no error.

No employee is bulletproof, and employers should not shy away from firing a worthy employee (such as an HR employee who committed resumé fraud) merely because the employee engaged in some protected conduct (such as a maternity leave). Yet, many terminations are risky, and even the most rock-solid termination can result in a lawsuit. That fear, however, should not hamstring employers from making appropriate termination decisions based on legitimate reasons. The best you can do with any termination is to make sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed (with the help of counsel, if needed), and let the chips fall where they may.