CLIENT ALERT / What Employers Can Learn from Garcia v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Print

On July 23, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided Garcia v. Bristol-Myers Squibb, et al., 535 F.3d 23 (1st Cir. 2008).  The Plaintiff, Norys Garcia, a former chemical engineer for Bristol-Myers Squibb, brought a Title VII action alleging the termination of her employment was motivated by gender discrimination. Garcia sought compensatory and punitive damages of over $10 million.  The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico granted the employer's motion for summary judgment, and Garcia appealed.  The Court of Appeals held that employer's proffered reason for discharging Garcia was not a pretext for sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment. 

Winning a motion for summary judgment on a Title VII claim is difficult because Title VII cases are generally fact-intensive and because, in analyzing a motion for summary judgment, all beneficial inferences are made in favor of the non-moving party.  Bristol-Myers Squibb (in this case, the employer) was nevertheless successful because its human resources’ policies and procedures were thorough, clear and consistent.  Garcia was evaluated frequently by her supervisors and peers.   All written reviews were explained to Garcia by her supervisor and then were signed by her.  When it became clear her job performance was unsatisfactory, Garcia was put on several Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs).  These PIPs were essentially probationary periods with specified corrective goals and frequent progress reports.  Most importantly, Bristol-Myers Squibb treated Garcia the same as similarly-situated employees. 

The overriding lessons of the Garcia case are that employers should have clear policies and procedures in place, should document employee performance, and should treat similarly-situated employees the same way.  If you need assistance with your employee handbooks or in evaluating your HR policies and procedures, please feel free to contact any of the attorneys at Taylor, McCormack & Frame.

 Feel free to contact any of the TMF attorneys to discuss this or any other legal matter.

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