For Your Own Sake Don’t Do THIS to Your Employees

Dumb, dumb, dumb case from Idaho, reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  You can find the case here:


Katie Mayes supervised the freight crew on the night shift at WinCo.  She had been an employee there for twelve years.  For the last four years of her employment, Katie and her boss, Dana Steen, did not exactly get along. 


For years, she had permission to take and eat pastries form the stale cake cart at WinCo’s bakery.  One night she told another employee, Nick, to get a cake form the stale cake cart for the employees to eat.  Instead, he took a fresh cake, an investigator caught it, and both Nick and Katie were fired for “gross misconduct”.


When their employment is terminated, employees with health benefits are entitled to something called COBRA.  That means they can continue their health care under the company policy at the employees’ expense.  That is a benefit to the employee because he or she can continue to receive insurance coverage without a lapse and also get the reduced rate that the company is sometimes able to negotiate with the insurance carrier.   But the company does not have to offer this small benefit to an employee fired for “gross misconduct.”


Katie is a single mother with seven children.  When she was fired, she was presented with a document banning her from WinCo for 100 years.  She was denied unemployment insurance.  Because she was fired for “gross misconduct” she was denied the possibility of continuing her health insurance AT NO COST to the Company.  Katie Mayes sued the company for violating COBRA, gender discrimination and a whole host of other claims.  Several employees were questioned for countless hours by investigators, attorneys and others, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and money dealing with her claim.  The case even went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the panel unanimously reinstated it.


So what’s the takeaway here?  I’d wager Katie doesn’t sue for discrimination or anything else if the company had eased her transition out of employment, instead of gratuitously punishing her.  That’s just spite – and it’s expensive spite at that.  Employees have rights.  Observe them for your own sake.