On May 17, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina made a significant ruling in Phillips v. Wolfspeed, Inc., where a former employee’s claims of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation were dismissed. This case underscores the importance of clear policies, effective documentation, and proactive employee engagement.
The plaintiff, a former employee hired in 2018, worked 12-hour shifts three or four days a week at Wolfspeed. The company provided employees 80 minutes of paid time off for lunch and rest during each shift. It was imperative for employees to adhere to the time clock abuse policy, which required clocking in when performing work and clocking out when leaving for a break.
During the plaintiff’s tenure, some coworkers noticed that she frequently used her personal cell phone during working hours without clocking out. Concerned, these coworkers reported their suspicions to management. Subsequently, the plaintiff met with her direct supervisor, who reminded her about Wolfspeed’s policies. Later on, the plaintiff informed the same supervisor about her pregnancy.
Due to pregnancy complications, the plaintiff missed several days of work and complained to human resources that her supervisor may be targeting her due to her attendance. A few weeks later, the plaintiff was issued a corrective action for her attendance. Subsequently, Wolfspeed conducted a time clock fraud investigation, which revealed that the plaintiff consistently clocked in without actively working. Her employment was terminated based on the results of this investigation. Notably, at the time of her separation, the plaintiff had a meeting scheduled with human resources to discuss potential accommodations for her pregnancy and address complaints against her supervisor.
The court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s pregnancy discrimination and retaliation claims were resolute, as her timecard fraud was the key factor in this ruling. The court deemed the plaintiff’s allegations, suggesting that her pregnancy was the sole reason for the investigation, were unsupported by evidence and, therefore, could not overcome the company’s legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff’s termination from employment.
This case presents three crucial reminders for employers:
- Establish clear policies to communicate and manage employee expectations effectively.
- Maintain comprehensive documentation of employee write-ups, counseling sessions, and interactions related to workplace concerns.
- Proactively engage with employees when they bring concerns to management or human resources, even when these concerns coincide with performance issues involving the same employee.
By heeding these reminders, employers can foster a transparent and fair work environment, minimizing the risk of potential disputes and ensuring compliance with the law.