The Cake that Ended a Career
A 56-year-old nurse and 28-year employee was terminated after she gave a co-worker a birthday cake. Unbeknownst to the nurse, the co-worker did not celebrate birthdays due to her religious practices. Despite above–average performance reviews, the nurse was terminated for insensitivity and “unprofessional, unacceptable behavior.”
The nurse sued the hospital-employer alleging that the “birthday cake incident” was merely a pretext for age discrimination. The nurse’s psychologist-expert testified to her severe emotional distress resulting from her wrongful termination.
After an eight-day trial, the jury deliberated for one hour and then found for the employer by a vote of 11 to 1. The nurse intends to file a motion for a new trial.
Had the nurse known of her co-worker’s religious tenets and still insisted on acknowledging her birthday, the result is understandable. However, that was not the case. Even if the co-worker did not eat cake due to religious beliefs, this issue could have been resolved with a simple “no, thank you.” While we need to respect the diversity of our fellow humans, do we really want to live in a world so sensitive and fragile that innocent confectionery gestures could become career-ending misdeeds? We earnestly hope not to abolish all manners of “fun at work.”