Manager Wins Retaliation Case After
Refusing to Fire Associate Illegally 09-07-2005
Risser, attorney at law
A regional sales manager for L'Oreal recently won her case
in the California Supreme Court.
The manager had worked for 18 years for the company,
had been named regional sales manager of the year, and
was then promoted. Shortly after that, a new director was
named over her. She and the director went together on a
routine tour of one of the company's cosmetic counters.
After the tour, the director told the manager to fire
a dark-skinned female sales associate because he did not
find the woman to be attractive. He said he preferred fair-skinned
blondes and directed the manager to "[g]et me somebody
hot." On a return trip to the store, the director discovered
the sales associate had not been fired. He complained to
the manager that she was still there, then passed "a young
attractive blonde girl, very sexy," on his way out, and
told the manager, "God damn it, get me one that looks like
The manager asked the director for an adequate justification
before she could terminate the associate. On several subsequent
occasions, the director asked the manager whether the associate
had been dismissed. On each occasion, the manager asked
the director to provide adequate justification for dismissing
the associate, who, it turned out, was among the top sellers
in the western region. Ultimately, the manager refused
to carry out the director's order and did not terminate
the sales associate. She never complained to her immediate
supervisor or to the human resources department that he
was pressuring her, nor did she explicitly tell him that
she believed his order was discriminatory.
Thereafter, the director began soliciting negative information
about the manager from her subordinates. He and another
director began looking for any excuse to reprimand her.
They audited her travel expenses, screamed at her in front
of her staff, and wrote a disciplinary memo demanding she
respond in writing and come to a meeting within a few days.
She wrote a response, came to the meeting, but they refused
to read the response and questioned her in an aggressive
The manager, who was by now being treated for nervous
anxiety allegedly brought on by the situation at work,
broke down in tears. Two days after the meeting, she departed
on disability leave due to stress. She did not return,
and L'Oreal replaced her four months later.
One of the important issues in this case was whether
the manager could claim retaliation for refusing to fire
the associate, even though she never said that she believed
the order was discriminatory. The Supreme Court said she
did not have to explicitly say, "this is discriminatory" or "this
is illegal." The fact that she repeatedly asked for "adequate
justification" was sufficient to establish that the employer
knew that the refusal to comply with the order was based
on the employee's reasonable belief that the order was
What you should do: This case could have been
avoided if HR or top management had been paying better
attention. How could the manager go from sales manager
of the year to incompetent in less than a year? Whenever
new management comes in and former top employees begin
receiving negative evaluations, it may be because past
management has been lax - or it may be that there is discrimination
involved. Investigate! or get sued and lose!
|Information here is correct at the time it is posted.
Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please
do not rely on this information without consulting
an attorney first.