It's Better to Avoid Litigation Than to Win Litigation
Posted at Arkansas Employment Law by M. McClure on 04/27/2010

Emails in  Employment LitigationMost of us have heard stories about emails in the workplace resurfacing in litigation. So, the facts of Elam v. Regions Financial Corp. are not surprising.

In Elam v. Regions Financial Corp., a newly hired teller was frequently sick at work and later discovered that she was pregnant and suffering from morning sickness.  The bank allowed the teller to have a drink at her station and to arrive late due to morning sickness.  The teller had performance issues other than her attendance.  She would leave her cash drawer unlocked and sometimes leave her station in the middle of a transaction.  Although the teller was reprimanded, her behavior did not improve.  Her supervisor sent an email to HR requesting to fire the "pregnant girl teller." Upon HR's approval, the teller was fired.  The teller sued the bank under Title VII for pregnancy discrimination. 

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court's ruling in favor for the bank.  The Court did not find any direct or indirect evidence of discrimination.  The supervisor's reference to the teller as "the pregnant girl teller" was not found to be discriminatory because references to a protected status without reflecting bias is not direct evidence of discrimination.  The bank had provided numerous accommodations and had non-discriminatory reasons for terminating her.  Finally, the Court noted that pregnancy does not require special treatment.

The case ended well for the bank.  However, this single email was likely a significant reason for the litigation.  Avoiding litigation is more important than winning litigation.  Remind your workplace that email communication is communication nonetheless and could be the basis of litigation.