By Amy McLaughlin, JD, Dinse, Knapp & McAndrew
As an employment lawyer, the first question I ask clients who are dealing with a challenging personnel matter is what type of documentation exists. Why? Because in the world of employment litigation, documentation is king!
A recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont is an excellent example of how an employer’s clear, objective documentation saved it from a lengthy and costly employment discrimination trial.
James Nadeau began working for Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in 2006, first as a supply handler and then, following a promotion, as supply supervisor. Nadeau’s performance reviews were positive until April 2012, when Katrina Geurkink became his immediate supervisor.
Geurkink was the manager of organizational effectiveness for the hospital’s supply chain. She was responsible for improving organizational performance by identifying and eliminating wasteful processes. Soon after assuming her role as Nadeau’s direct supervisor, she came to believe that he had trouble prioritizing tasks, managing his time, and satisfying deadlines.
Geurkink met with Nadeau to discuss his work performance. During their meeting, she specifically pointed out that he had difficulty meeting deadlines. She also made clear to him what her expectations for his job performance were going forward.
Several months later, when she didn’t see improvement in Nadeau’s time and task management, Geurkink began keeping a list of tasks that he was to perform within certain deadlines. By her calculations, between August and November 2012, he failed to meet the established deadlines 65% of the time.
In addition to her concerns about deficiencies in his work performance, Geurkink had concerns about Nadeau’s conduct. For example, he reacted unprofessionally during a meeting when she criticized his work. He also responded with frustration in November 2012 when she denied his request for time off.
Moreover, he left work early without permission on the day she had refused to allow him to take off. When she tried to reach him on his cell phone, he declined to answer and didn’t return her call.
On November 27, 2012, Geurkink issued Nadeau a written warning, documenting several specific incidents and listing corrective actions that he needed to accomplish within established deadlines (e.g., developing a time management system, showing improvement in meeting deadlines, and acting in a professional and respectful manner).
Employee’s health issues complicate matters
Nadeau suffers from Crohn’s disease, which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). During the time that Geurkink was addressing performance issues with him, he informed her of his medical condition. He indicated that he attempted to discuss his health issues with her during a work-related meeting, but she advised him to schedule a special meeting to discuss his health. He never did so.
Nadeau’s only requested accommodation for his IBD was access to a bathroom. However, there did come a time when his medical condition flared up and he needed a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).