Our employment lawyers have recently blogged about a few just decided federal court of appeals decisions that emphasize that all bad employer conduct is not necessarily unlawful. (Best Law Read: Not All Hostile Work Environments Are Actionable; One Use Of N-Word By Manger May Or May Not Create Hostile Work Environment). As our employee’s rights attorneys explained that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (“ADEA”) are federal laws that make it unlawful to discriminate or harass an employee based on that employee’s race/color, religion, gender/sex (including pregnancy and LGBTQ+ status), national origin, or disability.
Our employment discrimination lawyers have also regularly blogged about an employer’s obligation to stop unlawful harassment and discrimination by customers and clients. (Best Law Read: Are Employers Liable For Harassment By Customers?; Does My Job Have To Stop Harassment By Customers?; What Can I Do About Racist Customers?; Can I Sue My Job For Sexual Harassment By Customers Or Coworkers? Best Employment Lawyer Answer!).
Another recent case out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Brown v. Alix-Rx, No. 22-40160, 2022 WL 4594188 (5th Cir. Sept. 30, 2022), addresses the overlap of these issues. In this case, Judy Brown was employed as a Collections Specialist by Alixa-RX. After some time on the job, Brown was becoming overwhelmed by the hostile nature of the people that she was calling in her effort to collect; and was frustrated by the fact that her employer was not following its own rules for dealing with the situation. Claiming that she could not continue to function in the hostile work environment, Brown quit her job and sued her employer. Two of Brown’s claims were for hostile work environment and “violation of company policies and rules.”
First, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that Brown’s hostile work environment claim could not succeed because “she failed to state a claim since she had not identified her membership in a protected class.” Id. at *2. And since Brown had not identified that she was in a protected class (i.e., race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identification, national origin, or disability), there was no indication that she was being harassed by customers based on such a protected class. Realizing that this was a problem on appeal, Brown changed her tactic: “Instead, she states that the basis for her hostile work environment claim was her ‘calling Medicaid patients for money and the response she got when she made those calls.’” Id. As the Fifth Circuit Court pointed out the law does not employees from all angry people who interact with your employer.
One has to wonder what Brown was thinking would be the reaction of the people on the other end of her collection calls where those people faced getting cut off from necessary medications if they could not pay their outstanding bills. Did she think they were going to be happy and maybe invite her over for afternoon tea? This is like a boxer suing his opponent for assault. In some jobs, you have to know what you are getting into when you sign up.
Lastly, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rejected Brown’s efforts to sue her employer for allegedly breaking its own rules:
Brown challenges the dismissal of her claim that Defendants violated portions of Alixa-RX’s Rules and Procedures manual. After surveying Texas courts and sister courts addressing the issue, the district court found that an employee has no cause of action against her employer for a violation of the company’s policies under Texas law. We agree—Texas courts have not recognized a private cause of action for a company’s failure to follow its own internal policies or procedures. See, e.g., Fort Worth Transp. Auth. v. Thomas, 303 S.W.3d 850, 859 n.17 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2009, pet. denied) (“[A]s a general rule, employee handbooks and policy manuals constitute general guidelines in the employment relationship and do not create implied contracts between the employer and employee that alter the at-will employment relationship.”); Washington v. Naylor Indus. Servs., Inc., 893 S.W.2d 309, 312 (Tex.App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1995, no writ) (holding that a company’s internal policies do not constitute a contract with its at-will employee). The district court correctly dismissed this claim.
Id. at *3. This is not just a Texas thing. Most states will not hold an employer liable for a not following a rule in the handbook
Can I sue my employer for racial discrimination or sexual harassment by customers?
Best Employment Lawyer Answer: While employers can be liable for unlawful discrimination and harassment by its patrons, guests, vendors, clients, and customers, every situation is different. So, if you have been or are being discrimination or harassed at work based on your
race, national origin, gender, age, religion or disability; or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical). Call our lawyers in Cleveland, Columbus, Raleigh, Detroit, Toledo and Cincinnati to get help now. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its experienced attorneys are dedicated to protecting employees’ rights and solving employment disputes.
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