Four recent bias cases should be pretty vexing to HR pros. In two, the alleged victims were given some pretty unusual (and, in at least one case, very large) awards. In the others, the claims against employers will have you banging your head against a wall.
Award: $7M (oh, and a building named after her)
Let’s start with Dr. Carol Warfield and her gender discrimination case against Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where she was once the chief of anesthesia.
Her claims aren’t out of the ordinary: Warfield asserts that two supervisors discriminated against her because she was a woman and forced her out of her job. She then sued the hospital, the supervisors and the hospital’s physician group.
Her case was to go to trial until all the parties involved reached a rather unusual settlement: Warfield will get $7 million and the hospital’s pain clinic named after her. How’s that for a painful reminder — for the hospital at least — of an employment situation gone horribly wrong?
The hospital also agreed to sponsor an annual lecture series on women’s health and the contributions of women in surgery.
Award: Student loans paid off
Here’s the second unusual award to be issued to a discrimination complainant recently: A social worker (unnamed in an EEOC release) for Midway Neurological & Rehabilitation Center will have her nursing school student loans paid off by Midway as a part of an agreement to end her pregnancy discrimination case against the employer.
The EEOC brought the worker’s case against Midway, claiming the employer reduced her hours after learning she was pregnant and then fired her when she was out on maternity.
In what the EEOC is calling a “winning combination for both Midway Neurological and the employee,” the employer also agreed to reinstate the employee and adjust her salary.
Afraid scanner would imprint ‘mark of the Beast’
These next two cases will show you that employees today can sue their employers for just about anything — and win — no matter how weak their cases seem.
The first involves Beverly Butcher, Jr., who worked at Consol Energy’s Robinson Run Mine when it installed hand scanners to track employees’ comings and goings for payroll purposes.
Butcher feared the scanner would imprint him with the “mark of the Beast.” As a result, he said using the scanner went against his religious beliefs and asked HR officials to seek alternative options for him.
As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Consol officials then produced a letter from the scanner’s manufacturer stating the scanners “do not in any way have the ability to detect … or place the ‘mark of the Beast’ or any other mark on a person’s hand.”
The letter then went on to say: “The Scriptures, regardless of version, consistently refer to the ‘mark of the Beast’ being found or placed only on the RIGHT hand or forehead.”
So the manufacturer — and Consol — suggested Butcher use his left hand when getting scanned.
He didn’t like that option and took the issue to the EEOC, which sued on the grounds of religious discrimination — and won.
A jury awarded Butcher $150,000 in punitive damages, and a judge will now consider whether he’s also entitled to back pay and front pay. So things could get a lot more expensive for Consol.
One key takeaway for employers from this case: The EEOC stated that employees are entitled to the ADA’s interactive process as long as their beliefs are genuine. It doesn’t matter whether their employers agree with or share those beliefs.
Meth dealer will get his day at trial
Let’s set the scene for this last one: You’re a hospital — with lots of drugs, vulnerable patients, etc — and you’re thinking of hiring someone to be your radiology technician. But a background check reveals the guy did hard time for dealing methamphetamine. So you say “sayonara!” to the applicant. After all, the guy’s going to be around drugs, and you can’t have that, can you?
Not so fast, said the Hawaii Supreme Court. It said under state law (which is similar to federal law), an employer can’t disqualify an applicant due to a criminal conviction unless the conviction “bears a rational relationship to the duties and responsibilities of the position” — aka the EEOC’s old “job-related and consistent with business necessity” standard.
And the court said the employee brought enough evidence to the table showing that he wouldn’t have access to pharmaceuticals as a technician to defeat Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s motion to have the case dismissed on summary judgment.
It will now go to trial.
What’s got to be alarming for employers here is how high the court set the bar for employers meet the “job-related” standard.