Inconsistent Explanations Undermine Employer’s Defense
Because there were “inconsistencies and contradictions” in the supervisor’s and HR director’s explanations as to why the company began an investigation that led to an employee’s discharge, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the employee had established a triable case for whether she was actually fired in retaliation for a sexual harassment complaint.
In Donley v. Stryker Sales Corp., an employee filed an internal sexual harassment complaint against a sales manager that resulted in the manager’s termination. Immediately following the termination, the company began investigating alleged misconduct by the employee during a team meeting six weeks earlier. The investigation found that the employee had taken pictures of a vendor’s drunken CEO that she shared with co-workers, and the employee was terminated. During the lawsuit, the employee’s supervisor and the HR director offered differing accounts of when the company learned of the photos and why the investigation commenced. The court found that these inconsistencies, along with the delayed timing of the investigation, could constitute evidence of pretext for retaliation.
This case emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the company’s explanations for its actions must be logical and consistent.