Manager Who Clocked Out Late Loses Discrimination Claim

 

By Roger S. Achille February 6, 2019
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​A federal district court dismissed an employee's race-discrimination claim by finding that any alleged demotion by the employer was justified by the employee's continuously clocking out of her shift late.

The plaintiff was employed as a shift manager at Aldi Food Market. The shift manager's responsibilities included opening or closing the store, but the manager could work as a store associate when another store manager was working at the same time. On closing shifts, shift managers were expected to complete work and clock out by 8:30 p.m., even though they were scheduled to work until 9 p.m. On several occasions, the plaintiff clocked out after 8:30 p.m.

On July 26, 2016, in a meeting attended by the plaintiff, the plaintiff's supervisor reiterated her expectation that employees clock out on time. The plaintiff clocked out at 9:06 p.m. that night.

On July 28, 2016, the plaintiff was told that she would be assigned store associate shifts while receiving one-on-one training with her supervisor and would be assigned management shifts once she was able to clock out on time. However, the plaintiff testified that the regional manager told her that she was being demoted. In late July, the plaintiff was granted a transfer to a different store, where she continued to work until November 2016, when she was terminated for missing work.

The plaintiff alleged her demotion was the result of race discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Equal Employment Opportunity]

In the case of termination or demotion based on race, a plaintiff can bring a claim by showing that he or she:

  • Is a member of a protected class.
  • Was qualified for the position.
  • Experienced an adverse employment action.
  • Was replaced by someone outside of his or her protected class or received less-favorable treatment than a similarly situated person outside of his or her protected class.

Aldi did not dispute that the plaintiff was qualified or that she was a member of a protected class. Rather, it maintained that there was no adverse action, and the plaintiff was not replaced by someone outside her protected class.

While the plaintiff contended that the regional manager told her she was being demoted, no one at Aldi ever told the plaintiff she would never receive shift manager hours again, and the plaintiff kept her manager shirt and keys. The court remarked that the "weighing of the evidence and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions" and so concluded that the plaintiff had sufficiently established that she suffered an adverse employment action.

Although the plaintiff claimed that she was replaced in her shift manager position, schedules showed that the new shift manager did not work any shifts until the plaintiff had been transferred to a different store. Aldi also provided undisputed testimony that the decision to promote the new store manager was made before the decision to retrain or demote the plaintiff was made, and before the plaintiff's late clock-outs began.

The plaintiff admitted that she did not know the clock-out times of other shift managers or whether they experienced similar issues with clocking out later than 8:30 p.m. For these reasons, the court asserted that the plaintiff had failed to show she was replaced by someone outside her protected class or was treated less favorably than a similarly situated person outside her protected class.

Moreover, Aldi had presented a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for her alleged demotion, and the plaintiff had not produced evidence showing that the reason was unbelievable. The plaintiff's supervisor told her she was expected to clock out by 8:30 p.m., yet from July 11 to July 26, on eight shifts, the plaintiff did not clock out by 8:30 p.m.

Walker v. Aldi Food Market Inc., M.D. Ga., No. 5:17-CV-3 (Dec. 27, 2018).

Professional Pointer: Documentation can assist an employer in establishing the legitimate business reasons for an employment decision.

Roger S. Achille is an attorney and a professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.

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