On October 7, 2021, the New Hampshire federal court in the case of James Saunders, et al v. Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. issued an Order dismissing Saunders’ whole host of claims due to his frustration he was fired from his job at Shaw’s after coming into the store while on vacation and berating one of his co-workers on duty who was closing a department for the first time. Saunders also entered that department without hairnet or face mask and swore at his co-worker several times. Saunders asserted that he was in the protected classes of race, disability, and age. Shaw’s was able to show it performed a thorough investigation and also offered to Saunders the opportunity to take advantage of the employee assistance program which he ignored. Saunders sought somewhere between $1,300,000 – $1,600,000 in damages. He had 13 claims against Shaw’s for racial, age, gender, and disability discrimination, slander, defamation, financial harassment, harassment, wrongful termination, violation of labor laws, free speech, freedom of assembly, and personal happiness. His girlfriend, who was a co-worker that was not fired, also joined in the suit.
The federal court fully analyzed both sides’ evidence and the various claims by Saunders and his girlfriend who were self-represented. The judge found that Saunders failed to make any allegations that the reason he was fired was for any reason other than his misconduct when he went into the store while on vacation and berated his co-worker. New Hampshire and federal discrimination laws prohibit an employer taking adverse employment action including firing, at least in part, due to discriminatory animus or there being a disparate impact on certain people of a protected class. In this case, Saunders was a jerk and being a jerk is not a protected class.
The court’s decision, while totally consistent with prior legal precedent, is a good reminder is that employees do not get any additional protection for being a jerk due to them being a member of a protected class. While some accommodations could be made for someone who has a mental health disability, tolerating a worker berating and swearing at a co-worker, as well as violating safety measures such as a grocery store employee entering into a department without a hairnet or facemask contrary to Shaw’s food, safety, sanitation, and Covid-19 policies, needs not be tolerated by an employer. It is also a good signal for employees who think they can disregard an employer’s mask requirement due to the pandemic that such insubordination can result in being fired.
J. Daniel Marr is a Director and Shareholder at Hamblett & Kerrigan, P.A. His legal practice includes counseling businesses and individuals on a variety of legal issues and advocating on their behalf. Attorney Marr is licensed and practices in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Attorney Marr can be reached at [email protected].