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Plaintiff loses bias claim, pays defense fees

Debra Farmer didn’t take the broad hint offered by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema during a final pretrial conference in Farmer’s Title VII suit against Navy Federal Credit Union, Farmer’s former employer.

Brinkema recounted the state of the record and said she did not see how Farmer could survive summary judgment. Farmer forged ahead, and on Aug. 3, Brinkema ordered her to pay $33,970 of the employer’s attorney’s fees.

Farmer, an African-American woman, had tangled with a Vietnamese female coworker, and both women received written admonitions about maintaining professional communications. Farmer managed to get hers removed, but the comment stayed in her coworker’s file.

Still, Farmer protested preferential treatment for the coworker and said she had faced employer retaliation. As examples, Farmer cited being asked to turn down her cell phone ringer in the office, being given two projects with the same due date and having to move to an undesirable office space in a “high traffic area.”

According to the summary judgment record, Farmer abruptly left a counseling meeting with her supervisor, loudly cursing management and coworkers, and saying, “this is a mother f –ing nervous breakdown.” She turned in her badge, but later complained she should have been rehired. When she sued, the credit union produced evidence of 13 former employees terminated for using profanity in the workplace, 10 of whom were not African-American.

At the final pretrial meeting, Brinkema said, “If an employee in a huff walks off a premises and does what – uses any of the “F” language, shows that degree of improper behavior, especially gives up their badge, if your theory of retaliation is that the employer was unreasonable in not letting that person come back, I don’t see how you’ll survive summary judgment.” Discovery was closed, Brinkema said.

Farmer persisted and she should pay the price, Brinkema said.

Brinkema granted summary judgment to the credit union on June 8, and said Farmer owed defense fees to Eddie Isler and Lori Hunt Turner, dating from the final pretrial conference.

By Deborah Elkins

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