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Attila the Hun Can Get the Axe

Management employment lawyers often use the “Attila the Hun” defense when faced with a discrimination claim.  The argument goes – employee was not discriminated against based on a protected class – the manager is just mean and unfair to everyone.  It may not be good employee relations, but it is a great defense.  For the non-history buffs, Attila the Hun was a brutal leader of the Hunnic Empire who attacked Roman cities in the 400s A.D.

A Sixth Circuit case, however, recently addressed a case where Attila the Hun gets fired and asserts a discrimination claim of his own.  Attila lost. 

In Williams v. Graphic Packaging International, a department manager, aka Attila the Hun, went out on medical leave for prostate cancer.  In his absence, employees came forward complaining of his unfair treatment.  Multiple employees complained the manager told them “he owned them” and they had a “target on their backs.” He also discouraged employees from going to HR to complain.  He also warned them not to spread a rumor that another employee molested his daughter.  All pretty horrific stuff!

Upon discovering this information, the company fired the department manager for violating the company’s core values.  In response, he claimed the company fired him due to his prostate cancer in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and comparable state law.

The District Court found in favor of the employer and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.  Specifically, the Court held he could not show the real reason for his termination was discriminatory rather than a response to his pattern of behavior that violated the company’s values.  

While Attila the Hun may be a defense lawyer’s best friend, and it may work in court, it remains a terrible employee relations strategy.   This type of treatment towards employees at work leads to turnover and a decrease in productivity.  Therefore, Attila the Hun should be left in the past and anyone who thinks this is a good idea needs to be coached to modify such behavior before other employees jump ship or otherwise turn to third parties to correct the problem.

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on the ADA, best personnel practices, as well as other civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560. 

Additionally, if this article generated any additional questions for you, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com.  We may address your question in a future blog post.