A white nurse failed to establish that her termination for circulating an e-mail critical of President Obama occurred because of her race, a federal appeals court has found, affirming summary judgment for the employer.  DeCarolis v. Presbyterian Medical Center of the Univ. of Pennsylvania Health System, d/b/a Penn Presbyterian Med. Ctr., No. 12-3647 (3d Cir. Jan. 27, 2014). 

Amy DeCarolis worked as a nurse at Presbyterian Medical Center.  While at work, she opened an e-mail from her father containing statements critical of President Obama.  The e-mail included a letter from a CFO of an unrelated entity who said he needed to lay off employees because “our taxes and government fees will increase [i]n a BIG way.”  The CFO’s letter continued:

So, this is what I did. I strolled thru [sic] our parking lot and found 8 Obama bumper stickers on our employees’ cars and have decided that these Folks will be the first to be laid off.  I can’t think of a more fair way to approach this problem.  These folks wanted change; I gave it to them.

Several of the plaintiff’s coworkers saw this e-mail, and one reported to the plaintiff’s supervisor that she had circulated a racially offensive e-mail.

Following an investigation, the employer terminated the plaintiff’s employment because her circulation of the e-mail was “inappropriate and unprofessional.” 

DeCarolis sued the employer, alleging she was terminated because of her race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Pennsylvania law.  The District Court granted the medical center summary judgment on all claims and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed. 

The appeals court found that the plaintiff’s coworkers and the people responsible for the decision to terminate her employment were upset by the content of the e-mail she circulated and that this and the discord which ensued led to her termination.  However, the Court found no direct evidence to suggest the focus of their actions or comments were related to the plaintiff’s race as opposed to her conduct.  Similarly, the Court found the plaintiff failed to demonstrate the medical center’s legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her employment was a pretext for race discrimination.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the District Court dismissing the plaintiff’s claims.

While the employer prevailed in this case, the underlying situation demonstrates the importance of communicating to employees through policies and training about the appropriate use of e-mail.