A New Supervisor May Set New Expectations


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected an operations manager’s claim that he was terminated in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, finding instead that he was unable to meet the expectations of his new supervisor.

In Couch v. American Bottling Co., an operations manager with a history of positive performance evaluations began struggling following a change in supervisors. He filed an EEOC charge. Several weeks later, he received an “unsatisfactory” performance evaluation in a meeting during which he became angry. He was subsequently suspended and fired, and then filed suit for retaliation, relying upon the short turnaround between his charge and the negative review.

The Eighth Circuit noted that “timing alone is not enough to establish pretext” for retaliation, particularly where the plaintiff could have anticipated the negative action – such as here, where the operations manager knew that his interim review was taking place in August when he filed his charge in July. More significantly, the Eighth Circuit found “another rational explanation” – “the shifting expectations of a different supervisor” – to undercut any potential inference of discrimination or retaliation. Moreover, the Eighth Circuit quoted its own precedent that “Title VII protection from retaliation from filing a complaint does not clothe the complainant with immunity for past and present inadequacies, unsatisfactory performance, and uncivil conduct….”