Foul-mouthed bureaucrat fired for too much personal e-mail

A 12-year county bureaucrat whose ex-girlfriend turned her in for excessive use of personal e-mail has lost a lawsuit claiming she was fired unjustly.

A longtime county bureaucrat whose ex-girlfriend turned her in for excessive use of personal e-mail has lost a lawsuit claiming she was fired unjustly.

Lynne Bray, who assigned work to road crews for Washington state's King County, was reprimanded in July 2003 for being customarily late for work. She claimed she was being treated for depression and irritable bowel syndrome, a disorder marked by constipation and diarrhea.

But what seems to have led to Bray's termination after 12 years as a county bureaucrat was a citizen complaint from her former girlfriend, Jennifer Bond, saying that she was using the county computer for private e-mail messages. Bond also reported that her ex visited her (driving a county vehicle, of course) and drank beer during work hours when she was supposedly on duty.

At one point, county records showed, Bray sent or received over 50 personal emails during a three-hour period on April 16, 2003 -- when, again, she was supposedly on duty. Some of those included "profanities," barred by King County's employment policies.

Bray sued the county two years after she was fired. She claimed she was unlawfully fired for her disability--apparently a back problem, not her irritable bowels--and because she was a lesbian.

U.S. District Judge James Robart didn't buy it. In a ruling on July 22, he effectively tossed out Bray's lawsuit by granting summary judgment to the county.

Here are some excerpts from Robart's opinion:

Assuming Ms. Bray could come forth with sufficient evidence to establish a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination, the burden of production shifts to the County to provide a nondiscriminatory reason for the employee's discharge. If the County meets this burden, the presumption of unlawful discrimination is rebutted and the burden shifts back to Ms. Bray to show that the County's stated reason for her discharge was in fact pretext.

Defendants come forth with undisputed evidence that Ms. Bray engaged in excessive and inappropriate use of the County's property. According to it, this was the sole legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Ms. Bray's discharge. The court therefore concludes that Defendants have met their burden of production. As such, the burden shifts back to Ms. Bray to show that the County's stated reason for the discharge was merely pretextual.

Ms. Bray attempts to show pretext by alleging that her termination was motivated in part by her absenteeism, which was caused by her disability. Yet, she offers no evidence that either of the decision-makers in this case were aware of her alleged disability. Indeed, her own evidence shows that during the relevant time period she informed her direct supervisor that her absenteeism was caused by problems in her personal life and "roommate troubles." And, although she claims to have told her supervisor that she was suffering from depression, she does not allege that this was the cause of her absenteeism. Given that Ms. Bray admits to much of the conduct leading to her termination, and that the County's stated reason for her termination did not rest on her prior absenteeism, the court concludes that Ms. Bray fails to come forth with sufficient evidence to support her allegation of pretext. Because Ms. Bray fails to set forth either a prima facie case of discrimination or some evidence to support pretext, the court dismisses her disability claim in its entirety...

The court notes that Ms. Bray offers no evidence or argument that supports a finding that Ms. Arima's decision to terminate her employment was based in any manner on Ms. Bray's sexual orientation. For these reasons, the court grants Defendants' motion for summary judgment...

 

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