No Bias Claims for HR Director Fired for Skipping Criminal Checks

The HR & Payroll Resource Center is your integrated, comprehensive source for HR and Payroll information that merges news, analysis, and guidance – including custom answers,...

By Jay-Anne Casuga

Jan. 6 — A human resources director for a Texas community mental health center who was fired after officials discovered that he hadn't been performing annual criminal background checks on certain employees, including himself, can't proceed to trial on various discrimination and retaliation claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Jan. 5 (Miller v. Metrocare Servs., 2016 BL 1312, 5th Cir., No. 15-10086, 1/5/16).

Affirming summary judgment to Metrocare Services, the Fifth Circuit found that the health center presented a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating Stephen Miller, who failed to rebut that reason as pretextual. Miller, who is dyslexic, had brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act that Metrocare had retaliated against him because he complained about its overtime policy.

Additionally, the appeals court affirmed the dismissal of Miller's procedural due process claim under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983), finding that Miller had received an adequate name-clearing hearing after his discharge regardless of whether he had an opportunity to confront Metrocare employees.

The ruling, however, sidesteps an unresolved issue in the circuit on whether confrontation of witnesses is required for adequate name-clearing hearings.

Judge Edith Brown Clement wrote the opinion, joined by Judges Carl E. Stewart and Jennifer Walker Elrod.

No Evidence of Bias

Although the ADA, the FMLA and the FLSA have different elements for proving a prima facie case of discrimination or retaliation, the Fifth Circuit observed that the laws allow an employer an opportunity to provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory or nonretaliatory reason for firing an employee.

In the present case, Metrocare contended that it fired Miller after it discovered that Miller violated company policy by failing to conduct annual criminal background checks for himself and for approximately 70 employees. It also claimed that Miller allowed personnel records to falsely reflect that the background checks had been completed.

In response, the appeals court said, Miller failed to produce evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the reason for his termination was pretextual.

“Because Miller did not meet his burden, the district court did not err by granting summary judgment in favor of Metrocare on these claims,” the court said.

Name-Clearing Hearing Adequate

In addition, the Fifth Circuit ruled that Miller's Section 1983 procedural due process claim was properly dismissed.

After he was terminated, Miller, who was represented by counsel, requested and received a name-clearing hearing before Metrocare's board of trustees.

“Miller, through his attorney, was allowed to present at length and was allowed to provide documents to the Board to combat the supposedly false, stigmatizing charges against him,” the court said.

The hearing was adequate to satisfy Miller's procedural due process rights, the court said.

In so ruling, it declined to consider Miller's argument that the hearing was deficient because he wasn't provided with an opportunity to confront Metrocare officials.

“We have never directly addressed this issue,” it said. “Nevertheless, we decline Miller's invitation to make confrontation of witnesses a mandatory requirement for an adequate name clearing hearing.”

The court said the record shows that Miller received sufficient due process despite the lack of witness confrontation.

Kilgore & Kilgore represented Miller. Vincent Lopez Serafino Jenevein represented Metrocare.