HR Employees Get More Protection Under Washington state Law than Under Federal Law… but not quite
Human resources employees are often responsible for advising the company’s executives of discriminatory practices in the workplace. Under Washington state law, those HR employees who are fired for just doing their jobs may have more protection than under federal law.
Steven Lodis, the highest ranking HR officer at Corbis Holdings, Inc., became aware of complaints regarding the CEO’s comments about older workers being “out of touch”, “grandmotherly,” and “old-timers.” Mr. Lodis, who was 55-years old himself, confronted the CEO and general counsel about the CEO’s comments. Mr. Lodis was subsequently fired and he sued Corbis for age discrimination and retaliation. Corbis counterclaimed against Mr. Lodis for failing to record vacation time and accepting a double bonus that Corbis erroneously gave to him.
Mr. Lodis’s claims for emotional distress and retaliation never made it trial because the judge dismissed those claims as a matter of law. After two jury trials on the counterclaims, Corbis ended up with a $42,389 judgment against Mr. Lodis.
Both parties appealed and the Washington Court of Appeals determined that Mr. Lodis had a right to a trial on his retaliation claim. Under Washington law, an HR employee who is just performing his or her ordinary job duties in reporting discriminatory conduct can still be protected under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, RCW 49.60. The Court distinguished federal law that requires the employee to “step outside” his or her job duties in a way that is adverse to the company.
But the Court’s decision wasn’t a total victory for Mr. Lodis. The Court held that the trial court properly dismissed Mr. Lodis’s emotional distress claim because he refused to turn over his private psychologist records. Compared to some federal courts, this is a blunt approach that requires a claimant to totally waive the psychologist-patient privilege even when he or she claims no specific psychiatric disorder.
The entire opinion for Lodis v. Corbis Holdings, Inc. can be found here.