Friday, May 13, 2011

The Accused – Discriminatory Workplace Investigations - COTW #40

A woman complains to HR that she was sexually harassed by a male co-worker. HR conducts an investigation, and then terminates the alleged harasser. Now, the employer is facing a discrimination lawsuit… from the accused. The case is Lucchesi v. Day and Zimmerman Group, and it’s the employment law Case of the Week.

The male and female co-worker had a consensual sexual relationship. Apparently, the relationship turned sour because the woman complained the man sent her text messages and emails to her personal phone and account, and made her “uncomfortable”. Two HR officers “interrogated” the male co-worker, claiming two officers were necessary because the man was “intimidating.” Meanwhile only one HR person interviewed the female.

The man complained that the employer appeared to credit the woman’s allegations over his version of the story “without any reason for doing so other than sex discrimination.” Then, the employer fired him, because he might “walk past [the woman’s] cube, and this possibility of future interaction . . . created a ‘gray area.’” As the Court describes it:
The basis of [the male employee’s] gender discrimination claim can be reduced to the alleged fact that [the employer], presented with a female employee's harassment complaint against [him], conducted a superficial and unfair investigation, which resulted in [his] unwarranted termination.
The Court held that the employee had properly pled discrimination and retaliation claims, and denied the employer’s motion to dismiss.

One state retaliation claim was dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Case Citation: Lucchesi v. Day & Zimmerman Group, CIV.A. 10-4164, 2011 WL 1540385 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 21, 2011).

HT: The Legal Intelligencer - Accused of Harassment, Fired Employee States Viable Bias Claim.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.