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Court reinstates discrimination claim by hospital technician

Sex discrimination claims can often be very difficult to prove. Sometimes, these difficulties can cause trial courts to dismiss cases that deserve to be decided by a jury. In a case that arose out of an incident at VHS Detroit Receiving Hospital, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit decided that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant and that, as a matter of employment law, the plaintiff was entitled to a jury trial.

The plaintiff was employed as a mental health technician in the hospital's Mental Health Crisis Center. Her job was assisting registered nurses with treatment and processing of patients. She consistently received high performance ratings and had never by disciplined. On the day in question, the plaintiff was working under the supervision of a registered nurse, who instructed her to discharge a patient who had not been cleared for discharge. The plaintiff admitted that the wrong patient was discharged, but she pointed out that she was under the supervision of the nurse. Nevertheless, she was discharged because of the error. She then sued for damages based upon sex discrimination because she felt she had received more severe punishment than two male mental health technicians who had made similar errors.

The trial court dismissed the case, ruling that the two situations were sufficiently different that the plaintiff could not use the case of the male employees to prove discrimination. The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that while the two situations were not exact analogs, the plaintiff had presented enough evidence of the similarities to entitle her to a jury trial.

As this case demonstrates, a claim for sex discrimination can depend upon subtle questions of evidence. Anyone considering undertaking such a case may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in employment and discrimination law for an evaluation of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages.

Source: Society for Human Resource Management, "Fired Female Health Technician Has Triable Sex Bias Claim," Jennifer L. Gokenbach, March 23, 2016

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