South Carolina Employment Law Letter: Who is My Comparator? 4th Circuit Clarifies Standards in SC Firing Case
An argument employers often have to address in discrimination cases is that the employee was treated more harshly than similarly situated coworkers. To resolve the issue, courts have set out some guidelines for employers. Read on to see how the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (whose rulings apply to all South Carolina employers) applied the standards in a case that originated in our state.
‘I’m going home; I’m leaving’
Waste Connections, Inc. (WCI) supervisor James Fountain, a white man, hired Jimmy A. Haynes, an African-American male, to work for the company in 2006. Fountain supervised Haynes for the duration of his employment. During that time, Haynes drove a large, multi-ton “front-end loader” truck in Duncan, South Carolina, to pick up trash from WCI’s customers.
The following events led to the termination of Haynes’ employment. On October 6, 2015, he arrived at work around midnight, which was two hours before his normal start time. In a later affidavit, he stated he went in early so he could finish work and have time to eat lunch with his wife and play basketball. When he arrived at work, company mechanics let him know his regular truck was down for repairs but that they could have a replacement vehicle ready in five minutes.
According to WCI, the mechanics heard Haynes respond, “I’m going home; I’m leaving.” In his affidavit, Haynes explained he was ill with a stomach virus and had told another driver he was sick and unable to work. Haynes’ wife also testified he was ill with a stomach virus on October 6 and 7.
As Haynes was leaving, approximately 45 minutes before the normal start of his shift, he sent the following text to Fountain: “Good morning, Jim. I came down with a stomach virus and I will not be working today. If u have any question let me know.” Fountain did not see the text until 3:30 a.m. on October 7 and had to scramble to find someone to cover Haynes’ route. Consequently, around a quarter of the customers along the route did not get their waste needs serviced. Haynes called Fountain at 3:00 p.m. on October 7 and reported he was feeling much better and would return to work the next day.
Before receiving Haynes’ call, Fountain spoke with the company mechanics. According to WCI, they said Haynes seemed frustrated with the delay to repair his normal truck and stated, “Forget this” or “F*** this.” After speaking with the mechanics, Fountain met with the district manager and human resources manager and decided to terminate Haynes. On October 8, Fountain and the district manager told the driver he was being let go for job abandonment.
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