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The Cake that Ended a Career

By Robyn McKibbin, Esq.

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 aboveaverage 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.”

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