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Class Exercise: You’re the Jury!
You are on the jury that heard each of these cases, and it is time for you and your fellow jurors to deliberate on them one at a time. No one understood the judge when she read the jury instructions, so you reach back to your knowledge from HRM 3512. For each case, please answer the questions posed, and submit them at the end of class with your verdict. Feel free to use any course materials that help you, just no Internet, please!
Texas Roadhouse Case:What main law is involved here?What is that law about?Which side needs to prove what?Who has the burden of proof?What types of things did you hear during the trial that are evidence?What types of things did you hear during the trial that are argument?Which side would you suggest should win, and why?
Park Pleasant Case:What main law is involved here?What is that law about?Which side needs to prove what?Who has the burden of proof?What types of things did you hear during the trial that are evidence?What types of things did you hear during the trial that are argument?Which side would you suggest should win, and why?
Case 1: Texas Roadhouse (United States)
Texas Roadhouse is a nationwide chain of steakhouses with a casual vibe, a partner in country singer Willie Nelson and, according to one lawsuit, a history of discrimination. The case with 11 plaintiffs for failure to hire them was filed in 2011.
Among the evidence the plaintiffs presented: job applications from 38 restaurants in 20 states, on which company officials posted yellow stickers with comments. Besides “Old “N Chubby” they included “OLD,” “little older lady,” and “middle age … Doesn’t really fit our image.”
The plaintiffs, each over 40 and each denied a server position, testified that they were asked, “How well do you work with younger people?” as part of their interview.
Also included: statistics showing that, of the almost 200,000 people Texas Roadhouse hired over the years for so-called front-of-the-house jobs, fewer than 3,000 were over 40 — a disparity so great the plaintiff’s expert witness estimated the odds of it happening absent discrimination at one in 781 billion. Texas Roadhouse defended that older people generally don’t apply for server jobs, as the company limits servers to three tables at a time and that means there isn’t enough income in the job to interest older workers.
Asked whether the company did discriminate on the basis of age, according to one employee’s court filings, Texas Roadhouse’s then-human resources director, Dee Shaughnessy, allegedly replied: “Did we do it? Of course we did it. All you have to do is walk in the front door of our restaurants and see what people look like.”
In their own filings and testimony, Texas Roadhouse executives have vehemently denied the allegations and the accuracy of the statistics on front-of-the-house positions.
Case 2: Park Pleasant (Philadelphia, PA)
Park Pleasant is a long term care facility that operates in Philadelphia with two hundred employees, all of them non-union. Only doctors working for Park Pleasant held individual contracts of employment. Park Pleasant hired Joanie Alston (“Alston”), then 42, as its Director of Nursing on August 29, 2011. When Alston began working, her supervisor was Nancy Kleinberg (“Kleinberg”). In February of 2012, Kleinberg became CEO and relinquished her role as Administrator to Carmella Kane (“Kane”). At that point, Kane became Alston’s supervisor. Alston was performing her job up to Park Pleasant’s expectations from August of 2011 to February of 2012. However, her attitude began to change when Kane took over as her supervisor. According to Kane, Alston failed to perform her job duties, did not develop policies and procedures, and was adversarial toward Kane.
Kane tried to counsel Alston and help explain what was expected of her. However, Alston said that she “didn’t have to obey” Kane. On one occasion, Alston responded to a request from Kane by saying “last time I looked, this was a free country and there’s no slavery in America anymore.” On June 21, a meeting was held between Alston, Kleinberg, Kane, and Human Resources Director Sonjii West (“West”). During that meeting, Alston was given examples of her unprofessional behavior and told that she had not performed her job responsibilities. Alston was presented with a Performance Management Plan (“the Plan”) that identified expectations and areas needing immediate improvement. The Plan required Alston to be more professional by, among other things, not cursing at meetings and keeping her emotions under control. Additionally, Alston was required to work cooperatively with her supervisors and not to disparage her supervisors to her subordinates. The Plan called for Alston to be “a hands on Director of Nursing,” and take responsibility for the development of policies and systems within her department. Finally, Alston was required to communicate effectively with both her Administrators and subordinates, and follow directives and meeting timelines. The Plan stated that “[a]ny failure to reach or maintain these expectations will result in termination.” Alston signed the Plan that day.
On June 26, Alston took off from work in order to have a breast biopsy the following day. On July 12, Alston was diagnosed with breast cancer. Alston was determined to keep her diagnosis to herself. Alston did not tell Kane, Kleinberg or West that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer because, as she stated, “they don’t care and I didn’t want them to know my personal business.” In her Complaint, Plaintiff Alston states she was not limited in any way – when asked, she specifically stated she was not limited in any way for her ability to care for herself, drive or maintain her household. Indeed, when she returned to work, Alston told Kleinberg and Kane that she was fully able to perform her job duties. Alston testified at trial that she had not requested any reasonable accommodations “other than being fairly treated.”
Also on July 12, Alston began having weekly meetings with Kane and West to discuss what job duties Alston needed to complete. Kane kept a record of which job duties were assigned during those weekly meetings, and which job duties were actually completed. Following four such meetings, Kane and West expressed their frustration to Kleinberg. They indicated that things weren’t getting better and that they didn’t feel a good sense of cooperation. At that point, after the lack of cooperation coming out of the ongoing meetings, Kleinberg felt they weren’t going to be able to fix the situation. That same day, Kleinberg, Kane and West agreed that Alston should be terminated. On August 1, Kleinberg terminated Alston for not performing her job as expected.
Alston subsequently filed timely charges with the EEOC on the basis of disability discrimination and age discrimination and then brought suit under the ADA and the ADEA in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.