A female employee claimed that her supervisor repeatedly demeaned and ridiculed her publicly in multiple staff meetings, and in the presence of her professional colleagues. The Lakeland, Florida employee claimed that her supervisor did this because of the employee’s gender and age (over 40). Also, the employee complained that the supervisor micro-managed, intimidated and bullied her. For example, he allegedly glared menacingly and excessively at her when he was near her. He also allegedly sent her harassing email communications and interfered with her work-related discussions with others in the workplace.
Lakeland HR director is the focus of blame for discrimination and retaliation lawsuit
The employee filed a lawsuit, which contained twelve counts, including various gender and age discrimination claims as well as retaliation. Alvarez v. Lakeland Area Mass Transit Dist., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148310 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 30, 2019).
The employer’s lawyers filed a Motion to Dismiss, in an attempt to dispose of the lawsuit, arguing that none of the employee’s claims should continue. Regarding the gender discrimination claims, the court explained that the employee sufficiently pled at least one (and possibly more) adverse employment action – the denial of a promised raise. Specifically, the Florida federal court (the Middle District of Florida) explained that the employee must show a serious and material change in the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment so that a reasonable person in the circumstances would find the employment action to be materially adverse. The Court ruled that the denial of a raise qualified as an adverse employment action. The court also noted that the employee identified four male comparators she alleges were treated better than her, which helped to keep these gender and age discrimination claims alive.
Less than two months into her employment, the employee made a formal complaint to the Executive Director of the organization in which she addressed the targeted mistreatment she experienced due to her supervisor’s gender-based and age-based animus. Her complaint also addressed her supervisor’s alleged inappropriate, improper, and illegal actions and work-place conduct. The next day, the employee met with the HR director to discuss her formal complaint against her supervisor.
The female employee claimed that her supervisor’s hostile, improper and illegal conduct toward her continued and actually intensified, causing her to suffer severe anxiety and emotional distress.
The employee believed her supervisor’s amplified post-complaint hostile conduct toward her was in retaliation for her complaint and was intended to force her to resign. When the employee did not resign, she claimed that her supervisor began to exclude her from staff and grant meetings, thereby interfering with her ability to competently and successfully perform the essential duties and functions of her position.
The employee then claims that her employer’s human resources department and internal equal employment investigator failed to properly investigate her formal complaint against her supervisor. The employee specifically blamed the HR director for directing negative written evaluations of her job performance. The employee also claims that she was also denied a promised increase in compensation, allegedly in retaliation for making the complaints.
The employee claimed that her health began to suffer as a result of the discriminatory and retaliatory actions she faced, so she submitted paperwork for taking leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The employee claimed that the HR director denied receiving the FMLA paperwork and threatened to terminate her if she failed to provide additional documentation regarding her FMLA request. The employee quit her job, blaming the HR director’s demand for further FMLA paperwork, which the employee claimed was a constructive termination. According to her, no reasonable person would have remained in that work environment under these circumstances.
Regarding the employee blaming the HR director for her quitting, the Florida federal court explained that a constructive discharge occurs when a discriminatory employer imposes working conditions that are so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee’s position would have been compelled to resign. The court determined that the employee in this case pled plausible claims for constructive discharge under various discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA).
The court provided guidance to other Florida employers in its opinion, when it wrote that the employee “has clearly alleged that the conditions she faced, which included micro-management, harassing emails, glaring, humiliation in front of coworkers, exclusion from meetings, a negative performance review, and denial of a promised raise, among other things, were intolerable.” The court denied the employer’s Motion to Dismiss on these claims, but explained that the employer was allowed to try these arguments again later in the litigation after it went through the expensive discovery process if it chose to file a Motion for Summary Judgment.
In summary, the court rejected the employer’s Motion to Dismiss in its entirety and allowed all twelve counts to move forward in litigation. Certainly, the HR director will be in the proverbial hot seat for the way that he handled the complaints and how the employee’s supervisor was allowed to allegedly retaliate against the employee.
This case is a very recent reminder of how important the role of a Florida HR director is in preventing and defending discrimination and retaliation lawsuits. HR directors in Florida should regularly attend training of their own, and should ensure that managers within their organization are trained on discrimination and retaliation so that they are not the target of blame in a lawsuit.
If you need any assistance in handling claims of discrimination or retaliation concerning your Florida business or if you need guidance in any employment policies, please promptly email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. or call us at 1-772-465-5111.
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