In an unusual case, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has used court action to block an unlawful termination from taking place. EEOC v. Peter’s Bakery, (N.D. Cal. 2015).
On June 30, 2015, the owner of Peter’s Bakery (Bakery) notified employee Marcela Ramirez her employment would terminate three days later on July 3, 2015. When Ramirez asked why, the owner allegedly replied, “You know why. I don’t have to give you a f** reason. I don’t like you. You’re done.” Previously the owner had told Ramirez, “Mexicans like you would rather lie than tell the truth,” and “I never trusted your kind of people.” In subsequent conversations, the owner told a supervisor and a union representative he was terminating Ramirez for his sanity, before he killed someone.
On July 2, 2015, the day before the effective date of the termination, the EEOC obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) from a court preventing the Bakery from terminating Ramirez. The Bakery challenged the TRO, but was unsuccessful, and the court converted the TRO into a preliminary injunction prohibiting termination.
In its July 22, 2015 ruling, the court explained preliminary injunctions are issued only when the requesting party can show she would win on the merits of the legal argument— in this case, that the EEOC could prove Title VII violations—and that she was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, as well as other factors.
The court concluded that Ramirez could probably show the Bakery’s reason for termination was retaliation. In addition to the events of June 2015, the Bakery had fired Ramirez years prior without cause and refused to comply with an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate her.
The court also found that Ramirez would likely suffer irreparable harm in the form of financial hardship and loss of employer-provided group health insurance if the Bakery terminated her employment.
While this is a very disturbing case, it reminds employers of the dangers of terminating an employee after the employee has filed a discrimination lawsuit. In fiscal year 2014 (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014), 42.8 percent of discrimination cases filed with the EEOC included a retaliation claim.