Friday, March 1, 2013

New 3d Cir. Precedential Discrimination Opinion - COTW #132

The Third Circuit recently unleashed a monster 38-page precedential discrimination opinion in Burton v. Teleflex, Inc. It would be tough to breakdown all of the issues in a quick blog post, but I did want to point out the Court's analysis of the resignation vs. termination determination.

The evidence seems pretty clear to me . . . the employee had an exchange with her supervisor in which she repeatedly asked him if he wanted her to resign (according to testimony from both parties). He said he did not, but the employee then walked away and the supervisor understood her disengagement from the conversation to be a resignation (while admitting that the employee never expressly stated that she resigned). Right after the conversation, the employee told two co-workers that she had resigned, and the co-workers told the supervisor. The employee then missed the next two days of work and then left for a previously scheduled one-week vacation. When she got back from vacation she received a letter accepting her resignation, which she did not contest.

Pretty obvious what happened here, right? The employee resigned! The district court granted summary judgment for the employer on her discrimination claims. Not so fast though! The Third Circuit finds a "genuine dispute of material fact" (i.e. a summary judgment killer) based on the evidence that:
  • The employee denies that she ever told anyone she was resigning;
  • There was no resignation letter;
  • The supervisor admits that the employee never expressly told him that she was resigning (and there was no evidence that she ever told anyone above her in the chain of command that she was resigning);
  • Nobody from the employer ever confirmed with the employee that she had resigned; and
  • The employee's husband testified that she never mentioned resigning or getting fired after the conversation with her supervisor, and even did some work after that.
There were a few other facts sprinkled in the opinion as well. Frankly, if I'm on a jury here, I still think she resigned. But that's not the role of the trial court. The trial court does not resolve disputes of fact, so the Third Circuit reverses and the employee's claim lives to fight another day.

There are several other issues in the opinion, and I recommend reading the whole thing if you're in the Third Circuit (including Pennsylvania).