Yes! A federal judge has just opined that an employee can be fired for “being an overall strain on Human Resources.”  

OK, so it’s not the only reason that Maria DFrancesco was terminated from her job as an accountant for A-G Administrators in Pennsylvania. But it was among the reasons — and (for the first time in our memory) was specifically presented by the employer as a reason she was let go.

Let’s take a step back. DiFrancesco was hired as a senior staff accountant in 2009, when she was 55. Two years later, she was fired. The grounds, according to court records:

  • unreliability
  • perpetual lateness
  • marginal ability in accounting skills
  • constant distraction due to personal telephone calls (and distracting others in the office as a result of those calls)
  • communicating with co-workers with a total lack of respect, and
  • being an overall strain on Human Resources.

Attorney Sid Steinberg, writing on the Legal Intelligencer website, expanded on DiFrancesca’s work performance, as described by her bosses:

DiFrancesco was described by her employer as having a “larger-than-life style.” Examples of this were her penchant for speaking loudly and singing in the workplace, taking personal phone calls so that co-workers could hear and referring to her co-workers as “kiddies.” DiFrancesco had what was described as a “messy” personal life that she shared with her co-workers.

Furthermore, DiFrancesco’s attendance was often unreliable, as she would take personal days on short notice and she was described as being “perpetually late” for work, which she coupled with (as the company’s owner testified) “a loud and inappropriate voice when entering the office which essentially announces to everyone already at work that she was late without repercussion.”

DiFrancesco also made significant mistakes at work, including incorrectly transferring funds earmarked for one account to another, which was compounded by the fact that DiFrancesco was out of the office the day after making this error, with no one in the office who could identify the source of the mistake.

Although A-G is a small company without a distinct human resources department, DiFrancesco’s behavior created a strain on the co-owner designated with the HR function. A few weeks before her termination, one of the owners sent an email to the other, stating: “We absolutely need to find a new accountant. Some of the obvious reasons: perpetual tardiness, unpredictable schedule and abuse of our lenience and PTO; unwillingness to admit mistakes and regularly making them and either lack of awareness of her surroundings or just plain inconsideration for others in the workplace.”

Court’s not buying age bias claim

After her termination, DiFrancesca sued A-G for age discrimination, claiming that her bosses called her “grandma,” “lunch bag,” and, in one instance, “old hillbilly.” In addition, she claimed that one of the co-owners asked her for her birthdate multiple times. She apparently had not provided her DOB at the time of her hiring.

But the court rejected all those allegations. To begin with, the term “grandma” came up in the context of her repeatedly referring to her co-workers as “kiddies.” DiFrancesca had no proof she’d even been called an “old hillbilly.” As for the “lunch bag” comment: “This Court finds no age related animus to the term.”

Plus, management had a reason for asking for her birthdate — it  was required for the company’s 401(k) plan.

Bottom line: The company had legitimate reasons to let DiFrancesco go, including the strain she put on the organization’s HR function.

The case is DiFrancesco v. A-G Administrators.

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