Inconsistency Loses Case for Employer

Posted 10-01-2014

Eva Sala was a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent working in the US Virgin Islands. She asked to extend her tour of duty there, but was turned down because of a very negative memorandum from her immediate supervisor, who listed 25 reasons why her request should be denied. Some of these were quite serious, including violation of DEA policies involving travel, failure to deliver a prisoner for grand jury testimony in Puerto Rico, leaving a prisoner unattended in the DEA office’s holding cell, and failure to properly maintain case files

The trial court granted the DEA’s motion for summary judgment, but the federal appeals court reversed. Agent Sala asserted that the supervisor’s report was pre-textual, because she had consistently received positive employment evaluations from him. The appeals court pointed out a number of what it called “stark and glaring contradictions” between her annual reviews and the supervisor’s memo. For example, while the supervisor claimed in his memo that “Sala … has fallen short of what DEA should expect of someone with her time on the job,” in her most recent employment evaluation, he had described Ms. Sala as an “asset” to the office who had “a wide range of experience with DEA and will likely be a future leader in this organization.” While the memo criticized Ms. Sala’s work ethic, her annual review praised “her can-do attitude” and said that she had done an outstanding job in a “high-profile and in-depth case [that] has left many lesser agents by the wayside.”

The appeals court reversed summary judgment in favor of the DEA because it found that these seemingly opposite opinions of her performance cast doubt on the legitimacy of the supervisor’s motives. Sala v. Hawk, 481 Fed. Appx. 729 (3d Cir. 2012)

What this means to you:

Be consistent!

 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.

2015-06-12T22:34:04+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.