In 2016, a public employer sought a new Health Commissioner. They thought they had found the ideal candidate. Her resumé stated that she held a master’s degree in Public Health and had experience as a licensed sanitation. The candidate nailed the interview. Ultimately, the employer hired her for the Health Commissioner position because of her “excellent” resumé and interview.
Or so it thought.
Fast forward seven years, and an Ohio federal court had a heavily contested dispute before it. The plaintiff (formerly the Health Commissioner) claimed that the defendant, her former employer, fired her because of her race. On the other hand, the defendant claimed that it learned that the plaintiffs had misrepresented on her resumé that she had obtained her MBA and had an active sanitarian license.
That seems rather persnickety. But let’s pause for a second to look at how courts handle these types of claims.
Assuming that an employee can at least raise an initial presumption of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to offer a legitimate reason for its termination decision. While this isn’t a heavy lift, the employer must articulate some nondiscriminatory rationale.
Here, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff violated its policies by “providing false information, making a false statement committing a fraudulent act, or withholding pertinent information in the employment application process” and “dishonesty or dishonest acts .. . .”
All because of her resumé.
What was so bad about it, you ask? Well, the plaintiff’s resumé insinuated that she had obtained her MBA. For her part, the plaintiff acknowledged the mistake, blaming “a typo” that included the start date for the MBA program but not an end date.
But also, the plaintiff’s sanitarian license had expired. However, her resumé stated that she was a “Registered Sanitarian License, Ohio 2010.” The plaintiff explained to the court that her resumé “only states that [she] had a registered sanitarian license, not the status.” But, the implication was that she had been a registered sanitarian since 2010, meaning she holds a valid sanitarian license.
Whether the plaintiff’s resumé resulted from some honest mistakes or willful deception, it fostered mistrust, which led the defendant to believe that the plaintiff had lied intentionally about her qualifications to secure the position.
And, right or wrong, as we discussed the other day, an honest belief may be all it takes to proffer a nondiscriminatory reason for an adverse employment action.