Willis worked in Cleco’s Human Resources department as a Senior Human Resources Representative. At all times relevant to this appeal, he was supervised by Ed Taylor (“Taylor”), Manager of Human Resources. Taylor reported to John Melancon (“Melancon”), the general Manager of Human Resources. Two years before his eventual termination, Willis reported to senior Cleco officials that he overheard a racially hostile conversation between Robyn Cooper (“Cooper”), a Cleco employee, and Melancon. Willis was standing outside Cooper’s office when he heard Cooper assert that African-American students at a local historically black college were “dumb” and “lazy,” just like the current African-Americans working for Cleco. According to Willis, Melancon remained silent when he heard Cooper make this statement. Willis claims that reporting this incident created significant retaliatory animus against him, which was the true motivation for a subsequent Disciplinary Warning, being placed on a remedial Work Improvement Plan, and his eventual termination.
Two weeks after reporting Cooper’s statement, Willis sent an email to twenty-four other Cleco employees informing them that another employee’s son had been hospitalized because of an overdose on a large volume of pills. That other employee, James Eli (“Eli”), allegedly informed Taylor that he did not authorize the email and that its dissemination caused him significant distress. Willis, however, claims he sent the message with Eli’s permission. Thereafter, Taylor issued a formal Disciplinary Warning to Willis by placing a letter in his personnel file on April 16, 2007. The letter indicated that the Disciplinary Warning was based on Willis’s mass distribution of a co-worker’s private information, lack of good judgment, and lack of respect for others. Willis claims that these proffered justifications are merely pretext for retaliatory animus resulting from his earlier report.
Judge(s): Emilio M. Garza
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Rights , Communications , Constitutional Law , Contracts , Criminal Justice , Damages , Education , Employment
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