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An executive employee who instructed her subordinates to commit wage and hour violations and signed off on such violations was properly discharged following an investigation into her misconduct, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
Isis Naguib, 69, sued her former employer, Millennium Hotel Minneapolis, alleging discrimination on the basis of age and retaliation because she refused to violate the law, opposed discriminatory practices and took protected leave.
Naguib, an executive housekeeper for Millennium Hotels, was called to testify in a deposition in 2011 in litigation related to the condition of Millennium's building. Despite Millennium's assertion that it did not follow a particular set of maintenance standards, Naguib disagreed and testified accordingly. The matter was eventually settled, and, as a result of that litigation, Millennium had to renovate its building.
Renovations began in 2012, and the hotel was closed. Most of the employees were laid off, including all of the housekeepers. However, Naguib stayed on during the renovation, at her request, with reduced hours.
In the summer of 2014, the housekeeping department had been staffed again and Millennium management increased its oversight of the department. This included a revised dress code as well as an audit of the timekeeping of all the departments.
In October 2014, Millennium informed Naguib that she had 80 "use it or lose it" vacation hours that she should schedule by the end of the year. She never scheduled any time off, so HR scheduled her vacation for her. While on vacation, Naguib was hospitalized and requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was granted.
Meanwhile, the audit of the timekeeping system uncovered a series of wage and hour violations. Specifically, an audit of all five departments revealed that housekeeping had 178 edits to the timekeeping system, while the other departments had four, seven, eight and 40. The company spoke to housekeeping employees, who reported that Naguib had instructed them to commit these violations. As a result, Naguib was terminated.
[SHRM members-only toolkit: Involuntary Termination of Employment in the United States]
She brought suit claiming she was retaliated against for refusing to falsely testify (regarding the maintenance standards) and for opposing discriminatory practices relative to the dress code.
She further alleged discrimination on the basis of age, as well as interference with her FMLA leave. The district court dismissed all of Naguib's claims. The court found that Naguib could not prove pretext and that Millennium had a legitimate, nonretaliatory reason for terminating her based on her wage and hour violations.
Naguib v. Trimark Hotel Corp., D. Minn., No. 15-CV-3966 (JNE/SER) (Feb. 14, 2017).
Professional Pointer: This case reminds us of the importance of timing. In dismissing the case, the court focused on the fact that an investigation into Naguib's wage and hour violations was already underway when she requested FMLA leave. Likewise, the court pointed out the length of time that had passed between the allegations of wrongdoing against Millennium and Naguib's termination. Employers should be mindful of the timing of employment decisions and should ensure that decisions are motivated solely by legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.
Jenna Leslie is an attorney with Lindner & Marsack SC, the Worklaw® Network member fìrm in Milwaukee.
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