Policy violation, not discrimination, moves company to discharge trucker
Case name: Copeland v. Ryder Services Corp., et al., No. 06-56309 (9th Cir. 2009, unpublished).
In an unpublished opinion, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for a trucking company in a former employee's suit for disability, age and workers' compensation discrimination under state law.
What it means:
When an employee, who belongs to a protected group, violates established company policy that is consistently enforced against the entire workforce, he must be able to show some evidence of discriminatory animus in order to prove a claim of discriminatory discipline rather than retaliation.
A driver for a trucking company was injured in an accident caused when his cargo shifted during transportation. The company's safety manager and accident review board investigated the accident and concluded that the driver had not adequately secured the cargo before the trip. The company discharged the driver under its zero-tolerance policy for major preventable accidents. The driver sued under state law for disability discrimination due to his injuries, for age discrimination and in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. The 9th Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the company. The court held that the company had asserted a legitimate business reason for its decision and that the driver failed to show that it was pretext.
The court noted that the company's decision was reasonable in light of evidence that the driver was had previously been warned about properly securing his cargo. He acknowledged that he was aware the straps he was using to secure the cargo were worn and did not refute evidence that several acceptable straps were available for his use. Also, the company showed that it uniformly enforced its zero-tolerance policy. Ultimately, the driver did not present any evidence of discriminatory animus for the discharge decision. Although he referenced a few stray remarks about his age, they were not connected to the termination decision.
May 11, 2009
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