How many times has an incriminating email sunk a company in court? That’s why it’s refreshing to read about this case, where a firm’s electronic communication proved its innocence to a judge.
Debra Meyers worked as an assistant professor in the history department at Northern Kentucky University.
After nine years on the job, Meyers applied for two positions that had opened up at the university. She was turned down for both positions based on her “poor communication skills and ‘confrontation’ interactions with others.”
Meyers then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming gender bias and a violation of the Equal Pay Act.
While that complaint was being sorted out, the chairperson position opened up in the history department at the university, and the department sought an interim chairperson. Meyers was again not chosen for an open position — so she filed a second EEOC charge, claiming bias and retaliation.
Soon after, Meyers requested via email that the university pay $2,000 tuition for religious courses that Meyers wanted to take at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.
The associate provost denied the request, stating that the university didn’t generally pay for employees to take courses at private colleges that fall outside the university’s tuition waiver policy.
So — you guessed it — Meyers filed a third complaint, alleging sex bias, retaliation and age bias.
Email saves the day
Meyers eventually voluntarily dismissed most of her claims. The one she fought for in court: That in retaliation for her EEOC complaints, the university refused to pay the $2,000 tuition for classes in Cincinnati.
The court acknowledged that Meyers engaged in a protected activity when she filed complaints against the university. It also acknowledged that the university took an adverse action when it denied Meyers’ tuition request.
But in the end, the court ruled in the university’s favor. That’s because the associate provost who denied Meyers the tuition request didn’t know about Meyers’ protected activity or EEOC complaints. Furthermore, the provost didn’t even know it was Meyers who was requesting the tuition money.
Therefore, the court said, it was impossible for the university to retaliate against Meyers.
John T. Lovett, writing for HR Hero, has the takeaway for HR:
E-mail, text messages, tweets, and other electronic evidence can document what a manager was thinking at the time she made an employment decision. Wise employers will look carefully for electronic evidence that may prove they made employment decisions with lawful motives.
The case is Meyers v. Northern Kentucky University.