Human Resources News & Insights

‘Put on your big boy pants’: Takeaways from man’s retaliation suit

When a male employee in a predominantly female workforce voices a gender discrimination complaint, it’s probably not the best idea to tell him to “suck it up” and “put on your big boy pants.”

But that’s just what one male nurse is claiming happened in a retaliation and hostile work environment lawsuit he filed against his former employer.

‘You must be gay’

In Oberdorf v. Penn Village Facility Operations LLC, Ralph Oberdorf claims he was fired as a direct result of the gender discrimination complaints he made against his supervisor and assistant director of Nursing, April McFern.

Oberdorf, a male nurse at a predominately female skilled nursing facility, claimed he was repeatedly the victim of gender-based comments by his supervisor. These included:

  • being told he must be gay because he’s a male nurse,
  • Oberdorf’s supervisor saying she couldn’t believe he was straight
  • being told he had a “nice butt,” and
  • hearing that his girlfriend must enjoy giving him lap dances.

On top of the comments, Oberdorf claims he was treated in a rude and condescending manner and disciplined differently than his female co-workers.

Oberdorf also claims his multiple complaints to management were not only not investigated, they also led to further mistreatment and nitpicking of his work. In response to the complaints, an administrator even allegedly told Oberdorf to “suck it up” and “put on your big boy pants.”

Oberdorf was eventually fired less than one after his final gender discrimination complaint, and he filed a hostile work environment and retaliation lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in response.

Motion to dismiss granted but …

Initially, a court granted Penn Village’s motion to dismiss the suit for legal insufficiency. But in doing so, the court allowed Oberdorf amend his complaint and add any factual allegations that could support his case.

It was Oberdorf’s amended complaint that ultimately caused the court to re-examine the case. The amended complaint included info about the timing of his termination (one week after a complaint) as well as the vague nature of his actual firing.

Oberdorf claimed he was given a vague explanation about alleged interaction with a patient where he failed to properly give medication, something a female nurse also failed to do but was not fired for.

Motion to dismiss granted but …

Using a federal pleading standard — a standard that was made more strict in 2007 — to examine Oberdorf’s amended complaint, a court noted that a sufficient claim of retaliation can be made through an unusually suggestive closeness in time between a complaint and the allegedly retaliatory action.

The fact that Oberdorf’s termination took place so soon after a complaint and because he wasn’t given a specific reason for being fired were enough to provide sufficient grounds for a retaliation claim, the court said and denied Penn Village’s dismissal request.

Key takeway for employers: Firing an employee right after he or she makes a formal complaint is also risky and unless your company has airtight documentation to easily defend the move, it’s a move that should be avoided at all costs.

 

 

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