Friday, April 29, 2016

Video Surveillance Evidence Provides Key to Defense of Employment Lawsuit

Recently, in Chaib v. GEO Group, Inc., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the employer in Title VII employment discrimination lawsuit filed in federal court. Specifically, the plaintiff, Nora Chaib, worked for GEO Group, Inc., a private company that managed a correctional facility for the State of Indiana.  She was fired for “unbecoming conduct” because she improperly extended her medical leave following a workplace injury. Plaintiff sued GEO Group under Title VII alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, race and national origin. 

During her medical leave, Chaib’s employer became suspicious that she was malingering and hired an investigator to do video surveillance of her activities. Investigators videotaped Chaib driving her car and running errands around town while claiming to be incapable of  “normal activity including minimal exertion.”  Plaintiff could not dispute this evidence which ultimately proved fatal to her claims. 

To prevail, Chaib must show that a reasonable jury could find that GEO Group unlawfully discriminated against her by with either direct or circumstantial evidence.  Plaintiff offered no direct evidence of discrimination.  For circumstantial evidence of discrimination, Chaib relied exclusively on incidents in the workplace in which she accused co-workers of making racist comments to her and harassment. For plaintiff to prevail, these incidents must paint a “convincing mosaic of circumstantial evidence” sufficient to permit a jury to infer that discrimination motivated her termination.  Chaib focused on her co-worker’s threatening, harassing and racist actions which included the posting of a racially offensive comment on her workplace computer which Chaib contends her employer did not adequately investigate.

The court ultimately found that these disturbing incidents, assuming they, actually happened, were unrelated to the events and the investigation that led GEO Group’s decision to terminate her. Plaintiff failed to produce any evidence that the co-worker responsible for the alleged remarks and conduct participated in the employer’s decision. Without some connection between the offensive conduct and the termination decision, no reasonable jury could make the requisite inference that she was fired for discriminatory reasons. 

Finally, the plaintiff failed to prove that her employer’s stated reason for firing her (unbecoming conduct) was a pretext (phony excuse) for unlawful discrimination.  In the end, the Seventh Circuit found that because Chaib has not presented sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that GEO Group terminated Chaib for discriminatory reasons, GEO Group was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.