Magazine article HRMagazine

Inconsistent Reasons for Discharge Send Case to Jury

Magazine article HRMagazine

Inconsistent Reasons for Discharge Send Case to Jury

Article excerpt

Hitchcock v. Angel Corps Inc., 7th Cir., No. 12-3515 (June 11, 2013).

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court's summary judgment in favor of a home health care agency, holding that a jury should be allowed to determine whether the agency's shifting explanations for the firing of an employee could, in fact, be a pretext for pregnancy discrimination.

In October 2008, Jennifer Hitchcock was hired by Angel Corps Inc., a home health care agency, as a client services supervisor. Her job was to assess new clients' service needs. On March 25, 2010, a week after she informed her immediate supervisor that she was pregnant, her supervisor asked her whether she was quitting after she gave birth. Because Hitchcock was only three months pregnant at that point, she told the supervisor that she would not make such a big decision yet. The supervisor told her to make the decision as soon as possible in order to allow "continuity of care" for the clients.

After this conversation, the supervisor began to increase Hitchcock's workload. Because Hitchcock worked 40 hours a week and no overtime, the increase in responsibilities became "nearly impossible" to handle. In addition, according to a former co-worker's affidavit, the supervisor made derogatory remarks about how another child would affect Hitchcock's attendance (she had two other children at the time) and even said, "If I were you, I would have an abortion."

On April 5, 2010, Hitchcock went to the home of a possible new client, a 100-year-old woman who lived with her son, to do an intake interview. When she arrived at the house, she first went through paperwork with the son and then asked to see the potential client. According to Hitchcock, the son "reluctantly" led her to the bedroom but did not allow her to approach his mother directly. From Hitchcock's vantage point, the woman seemed to be asleep, but Hitchcock did not see signs of breathing or volitional movement and noticed "brown stains" on the pillowcase, which the son explained were from liquid that he had tried to feed his mother earlier that day. The son then backed Hitchcock into the hallway and turned out the mother's light.

Shaken by the interview, Hitchcock immediately returned to the Angel Corps office to report the incident, telling her manager that the client "was possibly dying or already dead. …

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