Rite Aid Worker’s Case on Appeal; Lessons Learned from Discrimination Cases

An interesting case this week saw an appeal by a discharged Rite Aid employee who was awarded $113,000 by a jury for wrongful termination. The appeal sought damages amounting to $1.2 million. In this case, a former loss prevention manager investigated the illegal practice by Rite Aid of not removing out of date food and medicine from the stores’ shelves. Rite Aid’s counsel argued that the company was in the right to terminate him after Plaintiff sent harassing text messages to another employee. In response, Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the text messages were merely pretext (or a reason made up to justify the termination which, although have the appearance of being true, are made without foundation, or even if true are not the true reasons for the termination). At our firm, we constantly see examples of pretextual terminations.

Some history into how California’s courts analyze employment discrimination/retaliation cases may be helpful. When a Plaintiff brings an employment discrimination case, California Labor Code Section 1102 or public policy wrongful termination claim, to a California court, the court evaluates the case by going through a three-step analysis (often referred to as the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting approach). First, the court decides whether there’s a clear-cut case of discrimination made by the Plaintiff. Second, the court analyzes whether the Defendant employer responded with sufficient evidence showing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason why it terminated the employee. Finally, the court examines whether the Plaintiff employee competently responded with evidence that the Defendant employer’s reason was merely a pretext for discriminatory motive. (McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973) 411 U.S. 792.) See full case here.

One recent example from a discrimination and retaliation case showed how an appeals court reversed a trial court’s granting of Summary Judgment (in other words, dismissal of the Plaintiff’s case) when the trial court based its decision on the employer’s stated reason that the employee violated his confidentiality agreement. Here, the appeals court questioned the reason for the termination occurring a short time after the employee contacted a government agency reporting the employer’s (mis)classification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. (Redeker v. Collateral Specialists Inc., No. A136291 (Cal. Ct. App. Nov. 4, 2013).) See these blogs for worker misclassification information.

If you believe that you suffered an employment law matter related to your employee rights or know of possible discrimination or retaliation based on you doing the right thing and reporting the matter to a government agency, prompt action to preserve your rights is crucial. Contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Stephen Danz & Associates for a free consultation to discuss your circumstances and legal options.