Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Tweets, honest beliefs, and terminations

@realDonaldTrump I am the VP of HR in a comp outside of philly an informal survey of our employees shows 100% AA employees voting Trump!

On July 24, 2016, Kathleen Jungclaus — the 55-year-old then-VP of HR for Waverly Heights Ltd. — tweeted the above. A couple of months later, someone anonymously notified Jungclaus's superiors of the tweet. When confronted, Jungclaus initially provided shifting explanations of the tweet's origins but ultimately admitted posting it. As a result, Waverly fired her for violating its social media policy (which she had drafted). After Waverly replaced her with someone 12 years her junior, Jungclaus sued for sex discrimination, age discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment.

The 3rd Circuit had little difficulty affirming the dismissal of all of Jungclaus's claims. It concluded that it had a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for firing her (the tweet), and that she had not put forth any evidence of pretext in that there were no similarly situated employees not fired for similar misconduct. Jungclaus's disagreement with its decision is irrelevant. As the court wrote:

It matters little whether Waverly's determination that she had violated the policy was correct. After all, the relevant inquiry is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent. The record leaves no room for doubt on this front — Waverly's termination decision was driven by its conclusion that Jungclaus had violated the social media policy.

We can have a healthy debate over whether you'd have fired Jungclaus based on that tweet alone. I wouldn't have. All that matters, however, is that Waverly honestly believed that Jungclaus's tweet violated its social media policy. Case closed.