Documenting Employee Performance Central To Fending Off Potential Lawsuits

June 7, 2023

In January, 2023, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided Bragg v. Munster Medical Research Foundation Inc., d/b/a Community Hospital, which highlighted the significant impact that documenting performance can have in an employment discrimination case.

After completing a 90-day orientation program for newly licensed nurses, the plaintiff, Catrina Bragg, was denied a full-time position as a registered nurse at Community Hospital, and transferred her to Hartsfield Village, a related facility, where her pay was lower.  Bragg believed that these actions were based on racially discriminatory evaluations of her performance and were retaliatory. Accordingly, she sued the employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the district court found in favor of the defendants.  That decision was affirmed by the 7th Circuit on appeal.

Specifically, the Court found that the orientation program that the plaintiff complained about was run by experienced RNs, who served as preceptors and were responsible for training, supervising and evaluating the work of those in the orientation program.  As part of that process, the preceptors filled out “Orientee Progress Forms,” in which they graded orientees.  Preceptors and orientees also attended bi-weekly orientation progress meetings, which were memorialized in forms that documented the orientee’s progress from the perspective of the orientee, the preceptor and the supervisors.

In response to Bragg’s claims, the Court concluded that the employer had abundant written evidence of her substandard performance, documented in the progress meetings and progress forms.  The hospital produced four progress forms and records from six progress meetings, dating between Oct. 1 and Dec. 9, 2018, some of which contained Bragg’s signature.

The Seventh Circuit also rejected Bragg’s claim that the fact that she was transferred, rather than terminated, was evidence of unlawful pretext.  Based on the proof of Bragg’s performance issues, the court accepted the employer’s response that it had concluded that Bragg was ill-suited to the pace of acute care, and might do better in a long-term care facility such as Hartsfield.

This case is an example of the importance of documentation, whether it be employee performance evaluations or other interactions.  By regularly documenting employee performance evaluations and keeping diligent records, employers can protect themselves when lawsuits like Bragg’s arise. Regardless of the proactive measures taken by employers, it is crucial to retain diligent, qualified attorneys to direct best practices in the workplace and fend off lawsuits if they do arise.

The qualified attorneys at Rock Fusco & Connelly, LLC can help ensure your business is in the best position to handle all elements of employee performance reviews and documentation.