(CN) – An Oregon county worker who claimed her supervisor favored gay and lesbian employees was legally fired, because a higher-ranked manager made the firing decision independently, the 9th Circuit ruled in a case of first impression.
Lea Lakeside-Scott worked as an information systems specialist at the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice. She complained that her co-workers were misusing the department’s computer system.
Scott also alleged that supervisor Jann Brown favored gay and lesbian employees for promotion.
Ultimately, Scott herself was fired for misuse of the computer system.
She filed a retaliation suit, alleging that the real reason she was fired was the influence of Brown on department director Joanne Fuller.
The district court ruled in Scott’s favor, awarding her $650,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals court ruled that the final decision was made by Fuller and insulated Brown from any liability.
Scott’s undoing in the case was a journal she kept which included excerpts of emails and documents from her co-workers and supervisors. The journal also contained remarks that were considered derogatory toward homosexuals.
“If a final decision maker is not liable when her decision to terminate a plaintiff is sufficiently independent from a subordinate’s unlawful motive,” Judge Fisher wrote, “the circumstance proving that independence may show that the subordinate did not cause the plaintiff’s termination.”