Court Rules in Favor of Alcon Laboratories in Wrongful Termination Case

September 28, 2011 ( – The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ruled in favor of Alcon Laboratories, Inc. in a case in which a former employee claimed the company violated federal and state laws in regards to her termination of employment. 

The plaintiff, Kristin Kepreos set forth five claims based on federal and state law arising out of her termination with Alcon as an account manager. She also alleges that the defendants maintained a work environment that was sexually demeaning to women.

Kepreos worked for the company out of her home office in Ohio, and made sales calls in Northern Ohio to promote and educate health care professionals on Alcon refractive lenses. Around January 2010 Kepreos learned that her daughter may need a heart transplant due to a medical condition. In February 2010 she contacted her supervisor to find out what she would need to do to file a leave of absence if the surgery needed to take place. She was given information of the person to contact for FMLA leave, but was also informed that if she was going to take a leave it would be an administrative leave for investigation of her expenses. Kepreos did not inquire further regarding the latter during this conversation because she was aware that there was a new system in place for the expenses.

Kepreos later found out that she was under investigation for expenses. She had a company credit card that was to be used for company related expenses. During an investigation it was found that Kepreos had made personal charges on the corporate credit card.

In February 2010 Kepreos was asked to come to the company headquarters for a meeting to discuss discrepancies that appeared on her corporate credit card account.  During the meeting she testified she used her personal and business credit cards interchangeably and would look at both accounts at the end of the month to try to reconcile the best that she could. She stated that if she had a business expense on her personal account, she would not reimburse for them, or vice versa. During the meeting she was given the opportunity to produce documents to support her statement, but in the meantime, she was placed on administrative leave. Kepreos stated that during this meeting she felt that she was being intimidated to quit her job and that the individuals in the meeting were making fun of her while she was sitting there.

Upon review of the documents from Kepreos, it was decided that she stole from the company and she was terminated from her position. 

After being terminated, Kepreos made the motion for a claim for associational discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act advising defendants that she may need to take time off to care for her daughter’s medical condition. Count Two alleges a sexually hostile work environment in violation of Title VII and the Ohio anti-discrimination statute. Count Three alleges that defendants replaced plaintiff with the son of another employee in violation of Title VII and the Ohio anti-discrimination statute. Count Four alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. Count Five alleges wrongful termination.

In Count One Kepreos claimed she was terminated after she advised the defendant she may need to take time off to care for her daughter’s medical condition. She also asserts that she was terminated because the defendant wanted to avoid the health insurance costs associated with her daughter’s possible surgery. The court found that based on the evidence, no reasonable factfinder could infer that plaintiff was terminated for the purpose of interfering with her ERISA health benefits. Therefore, plaintiff fails to show a prima facie case. Defendants have asserted a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for plaintiff’s termination: abuse of the corporate credit card and her failure to accept responsibility for the misconduct.

Count Two alleges that defendants permitted and fostered a work environment that was sexually demeaning to women in violation of Title VII and Ohio Revised Code § 4112. The court concluded the isolated incidents that the plaintiff mentions are not severe or pervasive enough that it could be concluded the defendants had created a hostile work environment.

In Count Three, Kepreos alleges the defendants replaced her with the son of another employee in violation of Title VII and the Ohio anti-discrimination statute. Initially, it was unclear whether Kepreos is alleging that this is a claim of gender discrimination. Defendants point out that plaintiff testified at deposition that it was not. In her briefing, she ignores her deposition testimony and argues that she should prevail on her gender discrimination claim. Even assuming, however, that plaintiff alleged a gender discrimination claim, it fails because she cannot establish pretext, as discussed above. Summary judgment to the defendants was warranted as to Count Three.

For Count Four, Kepreos claimed the company intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her. The court stated, that although Kepreos may have felt verbally attacked in the meeting she had with her supervisors in regards to the discrepancies in her credit card charges, these facts did not show that the defendants acted beyond all possible bounds of decency. Furthermore, she did not present evidence that defendants caused her to suffer a psychic injury that was severe or debilitating. Therefore, summary judgment was appropriate to defendants as to Count Four.

Lastly, in regards to Count Five, the court states that “Ohio law is clear that the statutory remedies under state and federal anti-discrimination law sufficiently protect an individual against unlawful discrimination and retaliation such that a public-policy tort is unavailable in such cases." Therefore, this claim was dismissed.

The case is Kristin Kepreos v. Alcon Laboratories, Inc.