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Monday, June 29, 2009

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today

In David Farr v. St. Francis Hospital (SD Ind., Judge Barker), an 11-page opinion, Judge Evans' opinion affirms the district court dismissal of Farr's claims. Some quotes:

David Farr contends that he was fired from his employment at St. Francis Hospital and Health Centers in Indianapolis because he is a man. He filed this action alleging sex discrimination in employment, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), and, as relevant to this appeal, he tacked on pendent state law claims for defamation and breach of the covenant of fair dealing. The state law claims were dismissed and, later, summary judgment was granted on the discrimination claim. Both decisions are subject to our de novo review on Farr’s appeal. Village of DePue, Ill. v. Exxon Mobil Corp. 537 F.3d 775 (7th Cir. 2008); Jackson v. County of Racine, 474 F.3d 493 (7th Cir. 2007). * * *

Farr then filed the present lawsuit, claiming that he was the victim of gender discrimination. In his charge before the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission he made the following claim: “My attorney and our computer expert immediately recognized the list as having been secretly put on my computer by a virus and not by any human. It seems to me that any fair-minded person should instantly realize I didn’t create the list.” During his deposition he was asked how he could reconcile that statement with his admission that he visited 17 of the sites. He again acknowledged that he visited the sites. Nevertheless, his sex discrimination claim rests on his view that the Hospital assumed he was guilty of looking at the pornography sites because he was the only man working in the department. * * *

The bottom line is that Farr admits that he visited some of the inappropriate Web sites. The Hospital says that is why he was fired, and he has done nothing to show otherwise.

In addition, Farr’s state law claims were properly dismissed. He claims the employee handbook gave him the right to be treated fairly, but that he wasn’t—in breach of the covenant of fair dealing. Indiana, however, adheres to the employment-at-will doctrine, and Farr was an at-will employee. Evaluated under Indiana law, the Hospital’s employee handbook does not change the nature of Farr’s employment. As we recognized in Peters v. Gilead Sciences, Inc., 533 F.3d 594 (7th Cir. 2008), the Indiana Supreme Court has entertained a challenge to the at-will doctrine based on an employee handbook, but rejected the challenge and concluded:

We re-affirm the vitality of the employment-at-will doctrine in Indiana and the general rule that adequate independent consideration is necessary to convert an at-will relationship into an employment relationship requiring an employer to discharge an employee for good cause. We decline plaintiffs’ invitation to construe employee handbooks as unilateral contracts and to adopt a broad new exception to the at-will doctrine for such handbooks.
Orr v. Westminster Vill. North, Inc., 689 N.E.2d 712, 722 (Ind. 1997). As we noted in Workman v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 234 F.3d 998, 1001 (7th Cir. 2000), “Employment at will is the norm in the United States.” * * *

Lastly, Farr claims that the Alverno report is defamatory. The problem is, however, that the report was used during the grievance proceedings that Farr initiated and in response to a report Farr submitted. In such a situation, statements made by the company to explain its actions are privileged. In fact, the employer has a duty to explain its actions. See Ernst v. Indiana Bell Tel. Co., 475 N.E.2d 351 (Ind. Ct. App. 1985).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 29, 2009 10:39 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions