Older woman worker.

Ramona DeBra was a teller for JP Morgan Chase for 18 years. For the first 17 years, she received “meets expectations” reviews, despite the fact that supervisors noted in two reviews that DeBra had made a number of cash-handling mistakes and had been counseled about those incidents.

Then a new branch manager was hired. In his first four months, he documented a dozen errors by DeBra. While some of her mistakes were minor, such as leaving $5 in the cash counter, others were more serious, including paying out an excess $200 on a check and forgetting to return a debit card to a customer at the drive-up window. He put DeBra on a performance improvement plan (PIP), warning that she could face corrective action, up to and including termination, if she didn’t improve.

But DeBra did not improve. During the PIP period, she left her coin vault unsecured and was $100 short. She was given a final written warning, which listed the two errors she made while the PIP was in effect.

When De Bra continued to make mistakes after the PIP expired, the branch manager fired her when she was 59 years old. DeBra she filed an age discrimination suit, presenting evidence that younger employees had made serious errors such as leaving a bank branch unlocked overnight or issuing a check from the wrong account, but were still at Chase. But, those employees reported to the old branch manager, the one who had tolerated DeBra’s errors and gave her satisfactory reviews. As the federal appeals court found in ruling for the bank, the fact that the new branch manager was “extremely strict” didn’t make his actions discriminatory unless there was some proof he tended to favor younger employees over older employees. And there was no such evidence; instead, the bank showed that the branch manager had praised DeBra’s co-worker, who was in her 60’s, and fired employees in their 20’s and 30’s for poor performance. DeBra v. JPMorgan Chase & Company, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 25137 (6thCir. 2018)

What this means to you:

This case demonstrates the importance of the key concepts we teach in Managing Within the Law:

  • Be consistent
  • Have a legitimate business reason for decisions
  • Document events.
  • Call the experts

Although DeBra had a history of cash-handling mistakes, the new branch manager knew that he couldn’t immediately take any disciplinary action. First, he consistently enforced bank policies. Next, he documented his employees’ performance, both good and bad. Third, he had legitimate business reasons for terminating deficient employees and for retaining superior workers. Finally, he consulted with other managers and HR before taking action.

To find out more about Managing Within the Law and our national HR training programs or to book a workshop, please call 800-458-2778. This program teaches managers to live the company’s values, build consistency and trust across managers’ teams, develop and practice effective communication, and create a respectful workplace for all.

Posted 03-13-2019

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.