Human Resources News & Insights

Supervisor yelled at disabled worker for 45 minutes — so how did firm win case?

There’s an unlikely lesson in this bizarre disability case. 

Cary Moore Menzie suffers from bipolar disorder and narcolepsy. But when she interviewed for the sales lead position at an Ann Taylor, she didn’t tell either of the store’s co-managers about it.

After she was hired, reports of her performance varied. Menzie said she was told she was doing a good job, while Ann Taylor claims they received numerous complaints about her performance.

After a meeting with her managers, Menzie’s performance improved for a short time before her supervisor received a new rash of complaints.

Shortly thereafter, the manager brought Menzie into her office to discuss the complaints. Menzie claimed that her manager then yelled at her for 45 minutes, saying that:

  • Menzie was unqualified for her job because of her bipolar disorder
  • bipolar people are deficient, flighty, dishonest, and untrustworthy, and
  • Menzie wouldn’t have been hired if the company knew about her bipolar disorder.

The supervisor gave Menzie the choice the choice between stepping down to a Sales Associate position or remaining as a Sales Lead with a 95% chance of eventually being fired.

Menzie initially decided to keep working at the store before handing in her resignation two days later.

It was only one incident

Then Menzie filed suit, claiming constructive discharge. The court disagreed.

Why? The court said that Menzie’s “evidence” is a single incident in which her manager criticized her work performance and disability during a 45-minute one-on-one meeting and:

although we do not condone the statements [the manager] allegedly made, this single incident is insufficient to establish the pervasive conduct necessary to show a constructive discharge. A reasonable person in Menzie’s situation would not have felt compelled to resign under such circumstances.

The takeaway

There’s a lesson companies can learn from this case — and no, it’s not: “It’s OK to yell at disabled employees.”

As the court said, “an employee is not guaranteed a working environment free of stress.” In today’s litigious environment, some managers might be wary of putting their foot down when employee performance isn’t up to snuff.

But courts recognize that the workplace doesn’t have to be fun and games — and give managers leeway to give staffers hell (on occasion) without fear of losing a court case.

The case is Menzie v. Ann Taylor Retail, Inc.  (h/t Disability, Leave & Health Management Blog)

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