Friday, December 12, 2014

No pretext, no case.

Another tutorial from the Court of Appeals tells us what it takes to win an employment discrimination case, and how hard it is to prove that the employer's reason for firing the plaintiff is a pretext.

The case is Mathew v. North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System, Inc., a summary order decided on November 13. Here is how these cases work: the plaintiff has make a prima facie, or initial, showing of discrimination. If the plaintiff was terminated from his job under circumstances creating an inference of discrimination (black plaintiff replaced by a white employee, comparable employees not fired, etc.), the employer then has to articulate a reason for the termination. To win, the plaintiff has to show the articulated reason is a pretext for discrimination. Pretext means a knowingly false reason. The courthouse graveyard is filled with cases where the plaintiff could not prove that management's reason was a pretext.

Plaintiff in this case says he was fired because he suffered from a hernia, in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act and state law. The hospital says plaintiff falsified his time records. Plaintiff says this is a bogus reason. The Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Hall and Livingston) says No Dice. "We are decidedly not interested in the truth of the allegations against plaintiff when evaluating pretext. Instead, we are interested in what motivated the employer." Since plaintiff actually admitted to submitting inaccurate time records in a meeting with management, "even if this admission was inaccurate or incomplete, it provided the [hospital] with a sound basis to conclude that Mathew had stolen time, and thus undercuts any inference that Mathew's termination was motivated by the hernia."

Plaintiff's second argument is that he was the victim of selective enforcement. But plaintiff "has not identified any other similarly situated employees -- that is, employees who admitted submitting erroneous timesheets -- much less shown that they were treated more leniently than he was." So, no pretext here, which means no discrimination under Second Circuit authority.

1 comment:

David Zevin said...

The real story: there was ample evidence of pretext, which the Court did not see fit to mention in its summary decision. The pretext involved the common practice of defendant's employees in filling out their time sheets several days before the end of the pay period - in fact, they were forced to do this because the payroll dept collected the sheets early and wouldn't pay for the last few days in the pay period if the as-yet unworked days were not prefilled. It was the supervisor's responsibility to correct any inaccuracies. The defendant was completely aware of this procedure, however this is exactly what the defendant investigated and then fired the plaintiff for doing. Obvious pretext. Lesson: in the current climate, courts don't want to burden business, and will bend over backwards to unlawfully dismiss employment discrimination cases.