The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently breathed new life into a lawsuit against WinCo Foods, finding enough evidence to suggest sex discrimination against a long-term female supervisor who was fired for sharing a stale cake with her work crew.
The supervisor, a single mother of seven, had worked for WinCo for 12 years. In that time, she was promoted to night-shift freight crew supervisor and had taken a leadership role on the safety committee. According to store practice, the supervisor was allowed to take stale cakes from the bakery cart to give to her crew to motivate them to stay for long stocking shifts. At some point, a fresh cake was taken, and an investigator was called in. The company tracked down the culprit to a crew member, who in turn said the supervisor had granted permission to take a fresh cake. The supervisor denied this, saying she instructed her crew to only take cakes from the stale cart. Store management then denied giving permission for even stale cakes to be shared. Both the supervisor and the employee were terminated for gross misconduct, which prevented the supervisor from receiving her accrued paid vacation and continued health insurance coverage under COBRA. The supervisor charged WinCo with sex discrimination.
Gender Discrimination in the Workplace? Corroborating Evidence
The Ninth Circuit said there was enough evidence to show that the store manager, also a female, didn’t like a woman being in charge of the freight crew. The store manager had recently replaced the supervisor with a male on the safety committee, allegedly stating “a male would be better in that position,” and also criticized the supervisor for leaving early to pick up her kids. Her replacement was a man with only one month of experience on the freight crew and no supervisory experience with WinCo. The case will proceed to trial for a full hearing (Mayes v. WinCo Holdings, Inc., 9th Cir, Feb. 2017).
Tips: As an employer, it’s difficult to defend your organization from discrimination claims if you have a manager making errant comments that can be perceived as discriminatory. Even a few age or gender-related discriminatory comments can turn the tide on a case like the one discussed above. If you become aware of any inappropriate and discriminatory comments, nip them in the bud and document your response. You may also wish to schedule your managers and supervisors for an anti-harassment and discrimination training, such as Vigilant’s class on Preventing Discrimination and Harassment.
If you have questions about whether your employment decisions could be viewed as discrimination, tread cautiously and check in with your Vigilant employment attorney for counsel. Non-members can inquire about our flat membership fee for unlimited employment law, HR, and safety counsel here.
This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.