Employer Defeats Prehistoric Beast

 Posted 12-06-2013

One of the enjoyable things about being an employment lawyer is reading court opinions describing people acting oddly. Here’s one of the oddest:

Nancy Barnette worked as a driver for FedEx in Florida for six years. She was issued a Performance Reminder after getting into two preventable accidents within a 12-month period, and told that if she had another similar accident, she could be disciplined or fired.

A few months later, Ms. Barnette was driving her assigned route when, she said, a pterodactyl or “some kind of big bird” allegedly struck the passenger window of her truck. She stopped outside the entrance to a gated community to clean up the glass. A landscaper came up and asked if she had just hit the gate, and Ms. Barnette said no, the damage was bird-inflicted. He offered to help her pick up the broken glass, but she refused and drove away, stopping where she could get better cell phone reception and calling a FedEx dispatcher to report a pterodactyl crash and broken window.

A police officer then drove up and told Ms. Barnette to return with him to the gated community, because he had received a report that a FedEx truck had smashed into the gate. There, brown paint chips were found on the truck’s right front wheel and corresponding scrape marks on the brown gate.

When FedEx received Ms. Barnette’s pterodactyl crash report, it promptly investigated, and determined that she had hit the gate, fled the accident scene, failed to report the incident in a timely manner, and falsified company documents in concocting the pterodactyl story, all in violation of FedEx’s policies. Not surprisingly, she was fired.

Ms. Barnette then sued, claiming gender discrimination. She said that two male employees had also failed to timely report accidents, but had received only short suspensions. But the federal appeals court rejected her claim, noting that neither of the men had lied about the existence of or events surrounding an accident. Thus, FedEx had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for firing Ms. Barnette. Barnette v. Federal Express Corp., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 20907 (11th Cir. 2012)

What this means to you:

  1. Have clear policies that you enforce consistently.
  2. Do prompt, fair internal investigations.
  3. Don’t blame extinct creatures from the Jurassic Era for workplace problems!

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.

2016-11-18T16:00:35+00:00

About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.