Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Aftermath of a Supreme Court Decision: Another MDV

Cases that make it to the Supreme Court are important for the precedent they set and for most of us that's what we got in last January's decision in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville. In fact, I said at the time, "certainly not the hardest case for the Supreme Court to decide, nor was the decision unexpected."  Supreme Court Unaminous in Retaliation Case.

But there are also parties to Supreme Court cases that have a much more personal interest. When the Supreme Court reversed the 6th Circuit's decision affirmation of summary judgment against Vicky Crawford's retaliation claim, she no doubt was looking forward to her day in court.

She got it last week and today, the jury made it two January's in a row that were good for Crawford.  Federal jury awards former Tenn. schools employee $1.5M for wrongful termination.

The Tennessean had some more information last Friday as the case was sent to the jury. Former Nashville worker's termination lawsuit go suit to jury.  Crawford claimed that she was terminated for participating in a sexual harassment investigation, the employer said she was "once a good employee but her job performance had been slipping for some time and she was fired for poor performance."

The investigation was of the Employee Relations Director and according to court documents, Crawford after being assured that nothing would happen to her, told investigators the Director "would ask to see her breasts, grab his crotch saying, "You know what's up," and on one occasion pulled her head to his crotch."

One item reported in the earlier story is the sort of thing that you know can be problematic for an employer. The same HR office who assured Crawford of no retaliation. on the same day that she turned in her report on the investigation (finding there were no witnesses to the alleged harasser's behavior), also sent a letter to the company's internal audit department informing them of problems in the payroll department run by Crawford.

However, the employer had some powerful arguments as well. It was two months later that Crawford was put on administrative leave and she was not terminated until after an outside audit found serious problems, including 25 uncashed checks lying around her department.

And that's just what is available from the necessarily brief and abbreviated newspaper reports. If anyone needs a New Year's reminder that when a case goes to a jury anything can happen, consider it sent.

And, of course, Ms. Crawford whose termination was way back in 2003, may find that there is a difference between a verdict and a judgment, and of course there is always the possibility that the case is headed back on appeal.


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