Derogatory Language and Policy Violation Not Sufficient to Insulate Employer from Wrongful Discharge Claim

Posted on: February 6th, 2020

Richard Christie appealed a grant of summary judgment following dismissal of his cause of action for violations of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and wrongful discharge against his employer.  In reversing the grant of summary judgment, the Court of Appeals held that Christie had generated fact questions on both claims.

Christie was employed by Crawford County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) as an EMT-Paramedic.  On January 27, 2014, Christie called a supervisor a derogatory term and made comments about her weight and was discharged.  After filing a grievance with his union and speaking with a supervisor, CCMH rehired Christie and Christie signed a zero-tolerance agreement acknowledging that Christie could be terminated for conduct relating to “any defamation of character or profanity that is used to refer to any employee, patient, or visitor within the Hospital . . . .”

In December 2014, Christie filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) alleging that his termination related to his sexual orientation and that he was paid less than similarly situated straight males working for CCMH.  In May 2015, Christie learned he was the subject of an investigation after a patient complained that Christie made a derogatory comment to her.  The woman and her mother reported that Christie made derogatory comments concerning the patient’s weight.  Christie admitted to making comments about the patient’s weight and saying “ow, my back” as he helped lower the patient down a flight of stairs.  After the investigation, Christie was terminated.

In May 2016, Christie filed a petition alleging CCMH had terminated him based on his sexual orientation and retaliated against him after he filed the ICRC complaint.

In finding a fact dispute, the Court of Appeals noted that the parties did not dispute that Christie presented a prima facie claim for discrimination and CCMH offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for discharge.  Instead, the sole argument on appeal related to whether the District Court properly analyzed Christie’s claim for pretext.

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