Defense of Idaho Employer Sued for Alleged Discrimination
In February of 2020, Brad Sneed went to trial in defense of an Idaho credit union. One of the credit union's former employees sued the credit union, alleging she was discriminated against when she was terminated in February of 2018. The case was tried to a 12-person jury on Feb. 25-28, 2020. The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the employer credit union, finding there was no evidence that it discriminated or retaliated against the Plaintiff, but rather that Plaintiff was fired for cause.
Plaintiff was hired by the credit union as a mortgage loan officer in June of 2016. From the beginning of Plaintiff's employment, the credit union struggled with how to properly and fairly compensate Plaintiff between her salary and commissions from mortgage loans. The credit union had lost its previous mortgage loan officer because it could not compensate her like larger financial institutions, so it came up with a more aggressive compensation plan to attract and keep a new mortgage loan officer.
When Plaintiff was hired in June of 2016, she was paid more than the prior mortgage loan officer and Plaintiff was the highest paid employee of the credit union. Plaintiff remained the highest paid employee at all times. At the peak of her earnings, Plaintiff made almost three times as much as the CEO of the credit union. In late 2016, about six months after Plaintiff was hired, the credit union hired a full-time mortgage loan processor to assist Plaintiff with closing loans. Because of this hire, the credit union projected its mortgage loan income to double in 2017. Accordingly, the credit union agreed to give Plaintiff a large increase in her compensation package in early 2017, which included a 5x increase in her commissions. In the following months, Plaintiff earned over $20,000 commissions in some months. Later, during her deposition and at trial, Plaintiff testified that she recognized this raise was "huge," "crazy," and "excessive."
On April 25, 2017, Plaintiff suffered a workplace injury, when she tripped and hit her head. Plaintiff was diagnosed with a mild TBI and was thereafter on worker's compensation. Plaintiff also required certain accommodations from her employer, including reduced hours. The credit union provided Plaintiff with every requested accommodation. In June of 2017, the credit union determined it was operating at a substantial loss for the year, because its mortgage loan income projections were greatly overestimated and because it was paying Plaintiff too much. The credit union determined that it had to make budget cuts, so it reduced Plaintiff's salary and commission basis in late August of 2017. Even with this pay reduction, Plaintiff had the potential to earn over $185,000/year--still 3x more than the next highest paid employee of the credit union.
At the end of 2017, the credit union was still operating at a substantial loss for the year, so it again determined that Plaintiff's pay had to be adjusted. The credit union and Plaintiff attempted to negotiate a new pay structure in late 2017/early 2018. On February 21, 2018, the CEO of the credit union had to send Plaintiff home for the day because she behaved inappropriately toward the CEO when discussing Plaintiff's pay. The CEO provided Plaintiff with a written warning and asked Plaintiff to return the following day to have a civil discussion about her new pay structure. Plaintiff met with the CEO the following day, as well as another credit union employee. The meeting quickly devolved and Plaintiff again called the CEO names, falsely accused the CEO of lying, threatened legal action, and threatened to have the CEO fired. At the conclusion of this meeting, the CEO was left with no choice but to terminate Plaintiff's employment. It was later discovered that Plaintiff had secretly recorded this meeting. The audio of this meeting was played at trial for the jury and was admitted into evidence. The audio was largely Plaintiff yelling at her supervisor, making false allegations, and threatening to get the CEO fired.
After being fired for insubordination, Plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits with the Idaho Dept. of Labor. Her claim was denied based on a finding that Plaintiff was terminated for cause. Plaintiff appealed this decision three times (IDOL Appeals Bureau, Idaho Industrial Commission, and to the Idaho Supreme Court). Plaintiff lost her appeal before all bodies, with the Idaho Supreme Court finding the I.I.C.'s decision that Plaintiff was terminated for workplace misconduct was supported by sufficient evidence in the record.
In November of 2018, Plaintiff filed a civil suit versus the credit union, claiming she was discriminated against and/or retaliated against in violation of the Idaho Human Rights Act. At trial, Plaintiff failed to articulate or produce any evidence of discrimination. Plaintiff failed to present testimony from any other witness to substantiate her belief that she was discriminated against. Ultimately, the 12-person jury rendered a unanimous verdict in favor of the employer credit union.
Practice area(s): Employment / Labor