“We were forced to terminate Brent after we learned that he’d falsified a portion of his resume,” said Supervisor Margie Brunton.
“Brent says the claim of resume falsification was a smokescreen for discrimination against him because of his military service,” said HR Manager Alan Frankel. “He’s suing us under USERRA, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.”
“What evidence does Brent have to support his lawsuit?” asked Margie.
“Brent says his boss made several biased comments,” said Alan. “For instance, his boss once said that military guys like Brent all think the same way and that service veterans are dumb. And Brent points out that when he asked for leave to see his military doctor, his boss refused his request, replying that she was his mother and that children weren’t allowed to question their parents.”
“Yeah, but the senior-level manager who fired Brent wasn’t the direct boss who made the allegedly discriminatory statements,” said Margie.
“Brent contends that his direct boss started the investigation into his resume, so she at least influenced the senior-level manager’s decision to fire Brent,” said Alan. “Brent also contends that we terminated him for alleged falsification of his resume but that we were aware of the resume problem when we brought him on because the hiring manager said the discrepancy wasn’t a big deal. Suddenly, it became a big deal and Brent was let go.”
“Brent is grasping at straws,” said Margie. “Let’s fight this lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
No. The employer lost. A jury awarded $240,000 to the worker, and an appeals court upheld the jury’s decision.
The judge said the jury could’ve reasonably believed that the discriminatory statements directed at the crew member by his boss – including the comment that military veterans are dumb and the implication that the staffer was a child who shouldn’t question his parents – were proof of bias.
While the direct boss who made the statements wasn’t the one who decided to fire the employee, there was considerable evidence that the direct boss influenced the decision-maker.
And the worker was let go over a resume discrepancy, but the employer’s hiring manager was aware of the resume problem at the time the man was brought on, so it appeared that the explanation for the dismissal had been cooked up after the fact.
What it means: Evaluate termination justifications
Remember: It’s never a good idea to terminate a staffer based on an alleged problem that has already been dismissed as irrelevant. In this case, a military veteran was let go because of a resume discrepancy that wasn’t considered a problem at the time he was hired.
That’s why it’s important to carefully evaluate the reason a crew member is being let go, and to make sure the justification won’t later be shot full of holes should the terminated person sue.
Based on Thomas v. Broward County Sheriff’s Office.
(From the Sept. 22, 2023, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)