In 2005, Brenna Lewis was hired at Heartland Inns of America and in 2007 was promoted to a night shift, front desk job. The Director of Operations, Barbara Cullinan, hired Lewis after a phone interview, sight unseen. However, after seeing Lewis for the first time, Cullinan requested a second interview telling the manager that Lewis was “not a good fit” and lacked the “Midwestern girl look”. Lewis, who described herself as “slightly more masculine” preferred to wear loose-fitting clothing including mens button-down shirts and pants, stayed away from makeup and wore her hair short. Lewis challenged the second interview and was fired three days later for thwarting the interview process and hostility towards new procedures. Within this time frame, a new policy was enacted requiring all front desk interviewees to go through two interviews.
Lewis sued Heartland Inn for sexual stereotype discrimination and retaliation. Three years and an appeal later, a jury awarded Lewis more than $50,000 for her retaliation claim. She did not win on the sexual stereotype discrimination claim.
Good Reason for EPLI
Even though some consider it “discretionary” insurance, EPLI is an essential coverage.
- Typical lawsuits last at least two years (this lawsuit lasted three years)
- Defense costs average $120,000 to go to trial (defense costs were probably higher in this case since it went through the appeals process)
- Jury awards average $252,000
What do you get with the purchase of an EPLI policy through PLIS, Inc.?
- Predictable monthly or annual premium (could be less than $5 per day)
- Assisance from experienced EPL attorneys
- FREE, UNLIMITED telephone access to risk management and HR services through SRM
- Punitive & Exemplary Damages (where insurable) Liquidated Damages Coverage
- $2500 in First Dollar Defense for Administrative Proceedings Coverage
- 50% Deductible Reduction Broad Definition of Inappropriate Employment Conduct
Human Resources / Risk Management Intervention Needed
If Heartland Inn had consulted a reliable risk management company (i.e. Specialty Risk Management®, Inc.), the outcome may have been different. Poor company practices, inappropriate statements (i.e. “front desk personnel should be pretty”) and the lack of proper policies and procedures all played a hand in this ruling.
However, with proper direction and documentation in place, this claim could have been avoided, settled for minimal dollars or the jury award reduced.