Legal Risks and Opportunity in Employment
Assignment: Legal Risk and Opportunity in Employment
The following three Legal Encounters involve NewCorp, your employer. You are required to provide a brief answer to the questions asked at the end of each encounter. Your boss expects a substantive answer, not simply a recommendation to refer matters to an attorney. The majority of businesses in the U.S. do not have staff counsel, and your boss does not want to spend money getting advice until after you provide an assessment. In your answer, identify what legal principles support your decision. All encounters can be supported from legal principles.
Legal Encounter 1:
Newcorp hired Pat Grey as manager of real property for Newcorp in Vermont, responsible for activities related to maintaining leased office space. In that role, Pat supervised 51 employees and lower-level supervisors, and dealt with tenants who leased commercial space. For the job, Pat relocated from another city 300 miles away, moving his spouse and children, selling and buying a home, and dealing with a spouse having to quit her job to seek employment in the new state.
After Pat had been on the job for three months, his boss explained that things did not seem to be working out, and said that Pat would be discharged with 30 days severance pay. Pat was surprised because his employer gave no indication of any problem on the job. Newcorp’s Personnel Manual, which had been provided to Pat upon his acceptance of employment, outlined the process for dealing with unsatisfactory employees:
Notice of Unsatisfactory Performance/Corrective Action Plan
If the job performance of an employee is unsatisfactory, the employee will be notified of the deficiency and placed on a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). If the employee performance does not improve to a satisfactory level within the specified period of time, termination will follow.
Pat acknowledged that upon employment, he signed an understanding that the company observed employment at will with respect to employment and discharge, but believed that the above provision limited Newcorp’s freedom to fire him at will. Finally, Pat observes that Newcorp senior management was “noticeably unfriendly” after Pat had been vocal at a local school board meeting. In the meeting, Pat insisted that school sports funds should be equally allocated among all student athletic programs, not just concentrated on the boy’s football and basketball programs. His position on the matter was unpopular, and although no one at the school board meeting identified Pat as a Newcorp employee, he believed that this contributed to the Newcorp decision to discharge him.
What liability and rights, if any, do Newcorp or Pat have in this situation? What legal principles (statutory or case law) supports those rights and liabilities?
Legal Encounter 2:
Newcorp employed Sam as a supervisor of electrical manufacturing for auto under-dash wiring harnesses. Sam’s department employed about 100 men and women to create the wiring, coat it with various insulators, and then connect it to different types of universal couplings so car speedometers, oil gauges, and other instruments would work. The final product, an under-dash wiring harness, was sent to the final assembly plant for installation in cars.
Sam developed a relationship with one of his female employees, Paula. They began dating and it turned into a torrid affair that included frequent trysts at the workplace. Paula later met and began dating a man who did not work for Newcorp, and thereafter ended the affair with Sam. Sam did not give up easily and continued touching Paula and exhibiting a variety of other unwelcome behaviors, even after Paula clearly told him to stop. Sam suggested that Paula’s work might be suffering from a “lack of interest” on her part, and since she stopped dating him, she seemed to lack interest in work quality.
Paula decided to get away from Sam, and applied for a transfer to the wire-coating section, which would not be directly under Sam’s control. Sam blocked the transfer, citing company policy that there was evidence that the chemicals used in wire coatings could harm an early-state fetus being carried by a newly-pregnant woman. Because Paula was a young woman who could become pregnant, Sam argued, Newcorp could not take the chance for Paula to work in wire coating due to the possibility of Newcorp liability for a resulting birth defect. Paula believed this was probably Sam’s way of keeping her under his thumb, and that even if it was not, it was discrimination based on sex and therefore illegal.
What liability, if any, does Newcorp have in this situation? What can and cannot Newcorp do? In your answer, identify what legal principles (statutory or case law) support your belief.