Who's the 'Knucklehead'? Employee Loses Retaliation Claim After Slurring Co-Worker

March 6, 2013

Noreen Wilson worked as a pharmacist for The Cleveland Clinic. From August 24 through November 4, 2010, she racked up three corrective actions—the first for calling a co-worker a "knucklehead," the second for sending an improper email to a job applicant, and the third for disconnecting a telephone while a coworker was on a call. After the last corrective action, the hospital transferred Wilson to a different shift. Three days later, she applied for, and was granted, Family and Medical Leave Act leave. She then appealed the corrective actions through the Clinic's internal processes. After the hospital rejected her appeal and upheld the correction actions, she resigned to take a job with a different employer. She then sued the Clinic for, among other things, FMLA retaliation relating to the corrective actions.

In Wilson v. CCF (N.D. Ohio 2/6/13), the district court concluded that the corrective actions were not "adverse" to support a claim of retaliation under the FMLA.

The Court finds that the corrective action Plaintiff received for calling a customer/coworker a "knucklehead" is not an adverse employment action.... Plaintiff received a corrective action for calling a coworker a "knucklehead." Plaintiff does not dispute doing so and therefore, cannot rely on this as evidence of constructive discharge when it was based on her own misconduct.

Exercising control to dole out legitimate discipline is not retaliation or discrimination. It's sound management of your people. Provided the punishment fits the crime, and provided the punishment is consistent with your past practices, you can discipline without fear of retribution.

Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Jon at (216) 736-7226 or