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Utah: Worker Fired for Refusing Polygraph Entitled to Damages

By Kirk Rafal  7/29/2014
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An employer that dismissed an employee after she refused to take a lie-detector test violated federal law and is liable for damages, a federal district court ruled.

From June of 2010 until her termination on May 18, 2011, Hannah Amarosa worked for Doctor John’s, a chain-retail establishment in Midvale, Utah, that sells lingerie, jewelry and adult novelty items. Hours after her shift ended on May 15, Amarosa was telephoned by the shop’s district manager, Ken Greentree, who accused her of theft and informed her that she would be required to take a polygraph examination.

Three days later, Amarosa reported to Greentree as ordered. He showed her into his office and proceeded to explain that Amarosa would be required to complete a preliminary questionnaire before submitting to an actual polygraph session. Amarosa surreptitiously recorded the entire meeting in which Greentree went to great lengths to persuade her to participate in the process. While he urged that she answer completely and truthfully, he also made several questionable representations:

“Okay, so I ain't sayin’ you, but anybody, if they lie on this test, you know, the polygraph company will go to the prosecutor. Okay, and say okay we have this case. Prosecutors love these cases cause it’s a slam dunk for them, because all the leg work’s been done, and they got an expert witness to testify.”

Despite state and federal laws prohibiting or limiting the use of polygraphs in the workplace, Greentree repeatedly implied that Amarosa would face prosecution if the test showed she was untruthful.

Ultimately, Amarosa declined to take the polygraph at all and refused to complete the preliminary questionnaire. Greentree then demanded to know if Amarosa intended to resign. She said she did not, and Greentree fired her on the spot.

Amarosa filed suit claiming that Doctor John’s and Greentree violated her rights under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA). The EPPA protects workers from employers who rely on “inaccurate, inconclusive, or unfounded lie detector results to make employment decisions.” Aside from some narrow exceptions, the EPPA essentially makes it illegal for employers to administer polygraph tests, or to discipline employees who refuse to participate in such tests.

Amarosa file a motion for summary judgment — a verdict from the bench prior to actual trial based on the undisputed facts. Doctor John’s moved to have Amarosa’s suit dismissed on the grounds that it never intended to administer an actual polygraph examination, but the court was not persuaded. Given Greentree’s recorded statements and threats, the court concluded that Amarosa reasonably believed she had no choice but to submit to the polygraph or face termination, and “the statute clearly prohibits what was done here.”

The court granted Amarosa’s motion and found that Doctor John’s and Greentree had violated the EPPA. Damages will be determined at a future trial.

Amarosa v. Dr. John's Inc., D. Utah, No. 2-11-cv-676 DN (July 2, 2014).

Kirk Rafdal, J.D., is a staff writer for SHRM.
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