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Employment Law Blog
James Tarquin, P.A
As part of our commitment to assist and educate employees in fighting back against the abusive employment practices of employers, we offer a broad range of information about employment law issues in our employment blog.

Is The Failure To Investigate Reasons For Firing An Employee Evidence Of Retaliatory Discharge?

Wrongful termination. Documents and gavel on a desk.

Having represented employees who have been wrongfully fired for almost two decades, our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge attorneys know that employers frequently do not investigate the facts on which they base an employee’s termination. In many cases, employers never even interview the employee before pulling the trigger. Instead of getting the employee’s side of the story before making the termination decision, employers often simply adopt the version of events provided by a biased co-worker or supervisor. The decision by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Humphries v. CBOCS West, Inc., 474 F.3d 387 (7th Cir. 2007) demonstrates that an employer’s failure to conduct any investigation, including the failure to interview the discharged employee, can be used to prove a retaliatory termination.

Manager Makes Racist Remarks

In that case, Hedrick Humphries (Humphries) brought a retaliation lawsuit against his former employer, CBOCS West, Inc., d/b/a Cracker Barrel (Cracker Barrel). Humphries, who is African-American, claimed that Cracker Barrel violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) by firing him in retaliation for complaining about race discrimination. Title VII protects employees from retaliation when they complain about perceived race discrimination in the workplace.

Humphries worked as an associate manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Illinois. Associate managers at Cracker Barrel are supervised by a general manager, who in turn is supervised by a district manager. During his three-year employment tenure, Humphries was supervised by three general managers. Humphries’ performance during his first two-and-a-half years was considered excellent. Circumstances changed for Humphries, however, when the second general manager, a man named Cardin, took over.

According to Humphries, Cardin routinely made racially derogatory remarks in the workplace, such as stating all African-Americans are “drunk or high on drugs” and that “all Mexicans have a bunch of kids.” Humphries further alleged that other employees had told him that Cardin had stated that he was there “for the white people” and was “going to take care of the white people.”

Fired For Complaining About Race Discrimination

During his first month as general manager, Cardin subjected Humphries to five disciplinary reports. Humphries claimed that the disciplinary reports were baseless and reflected Cardin’s racial animus. After receiving the disciplinary reports, Humphries complained to a district manager, Christensen. Christensen, however, did not conduct any investigation of Humphries’ claims. Humphries later made another complaint to Christensen alleging that an associate manager, Stinnett, fired an African-American employee for discriminatory reasons. According to Humphries, Christensen berated him for “going outside the management group” by complaining to him instead of the new general manager, Dowd, and demanded that Humphries schedule a meeting with Dowd for the following week.

The date before the scheduled meeting, Christensen fired Humphries based upon Stinnett’s complaint that Humphries had left the store safe unlocked during the evening. Humphries denied leaving the safe unlocked. After being informed by Stinnett that Humphries had left the safe unlocked, Christensen immediately terminated Humphries—without interviewing him or investigating the incident to determine whether Humphries had actually left the safe open.

Lack Of Investigation Is Evidence Of Retaliation

The trial court dismissed Humphries’ retaliation claim. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision and reinstated Humphries’ retaliation claim. In doing so, the appellate court focused on Cracker Barrel’s failure to conduct any investigation before firing Humphries. The court of appeals observed that “Christensen conducted no investigation into the veracity of Stinnett’s claim” before firing Humphries. Nor did Christensen “interview Humphries.” Instead, the appellate court explained, Christensen “simply credited Stinnett’s story.” Simply adopting Stinnett’s story, the court of appeals pointed out, was deeply flawed because Stinnett was the “very individual Humphries targeted in his final complaint of discrimination.” These circumstances, the Seventh Circuit concluded, “support a reasonable inference that Humphries was ‘set up’ by Stinnett (in tandem with Dowd and Christensen)” and that Humphries’ “purported bad act of leaving the safe open was a fabrication to justify his firing.”

Free Consultation With Ocala Wrongful Discharge Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing employees throughout Central Florida, our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge attorneys have been litigating employment law cases on behalf of employees for almost twenty years. If you have been wrongfully fired or have questions about your protection against retaliation under the federal anti-discrimination laws, please contact our office for a free consultation with our Marion County, Florida wrongful discharge lawyers. Our employment and labor law attorneys take wrongful discharge cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.

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