Employees May be Able to Use Internal Emails to Prove Disability Discrimination Indicates Chicago Employment Lawyer

Law Firm Newswire



Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) July 24, 2012 – Managers need to be careful what they say in emails. Those emails may end up as evidence in a lawsuit.

“Before the advent of the Internet and email, texting, people used to just call or talk co-workers and management in person. If there was an issue at work with an employee, a manager would call someone in Human Resources, asking for advice. Phone calls are no longer as common as emails,” commented Timothy Coffey, a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace.

Phone calls do not leave a record of what the manager and human resources person talked about. However, email leaves a detailed paper trail and courts are not hesitating to ask for, and use emails as evidence in a discrimination lawsuit. This means any questionable emails, in content, tone, or both, may come back to haunt the manager who wrote it.

A recent Illinois case, Myers v. Wickes Furniture, No. 06-CV-04951, ND IL, 2012, highlights this scenario. The plaintiff worked in a furniture store. One day, when a shipment arrived, she offered to help get the pieces out and onto the showroom floor. While moving furniture, she strained her back. The next day she showed up at an urgent care clinic, in terrible pain. Her physician told her no lifting, and sent her for physiotherapy.

“Overtime, the pain increased and she had to go to hospital. Her cases claimed that when she went back to work, her immediate supervisor would not honor her restrictions, and made an issue of getting a doctor’s note for every absence. The furniture company policy only required a medical note for absences of three or more days. The upshot is the plaintiff missed more work and had to use her Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to cover further periods she missed,” Coffey indicated.

As all the hard feelings were circulating in her workplace, her supervisor sent emails to the human resources department, with replies coming back, discussing the situation with the plaintiff. The emails contained various references to the plaintiff working 6 hours a day to zero hours and landing in the hospital, questions about how she was being paid for missing days and complaining about her not working due to her back injury.

At this point, she started to get poor performance appraisals, and finally lost her job. “The plaintiff sued, alleging disability discrimination and retaliation, for taking FMLA leave and for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The store said it was merely firing a poor worker,” outlined Coffey. The plaintiff’s attorney entered the supervisor’s emails into evidence and showed the court she had received an award for great performance, after being nominated for it by co-workers.

The court took the view that the less than kind emails could prove that the plaintiff was let go in retaliation for taking her FMLA leave and claiming disability. “It is critical for all employees to act and speak professionally, but it is even more crucial for supervisors and managers. Anything they say in a text message, email or by handwritten memo might be submitted as evidence in a lawsuit. Employees must be protected in the workplace, and when supervisors or managers send inappropriate messages relating to them, they need to be held responsible for their actions,” said Coffey.

Timothy Coffey is a Chicago employment lawyer and principal attorney for The Coffey Law Office, P. C., an employment litigation firm dedicated to representing employees in the workplace. To learn more or to contact a Chicago employment attorney, visit employmentlawcounsel.com.

351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654
Call: 312.627.9700

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