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7th Circuit rules for employer on fired worker’s claims

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An Italian-born naturalized U.S. citizen who sued his former employer for religious discrimination and defamation after he was fired could not prove his claims before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Emilio Martino worked for Western & Southern Financial Group in northern Indiana for about two months as a sales representative before his employment was terminated. The company has a policy that sales representatives may only work outside jobs that require five or less hours a week and less than $100 in pay. Martino submitted to the company his outside position as a pastor of a small church in Michigan, but because the pay and hours were over what the company allows, W&S told Martino he needed to end his pastoral position.

Shortly after receiving this notice, the company was trying to verify Martino’s eligibility to work in the U.S. He was unable to produce his Social Security card, but had a valid number, and the paperwork would take several weeks. The documentation he did produce could not verify his eligibility and allow him to complete the I-9 process within a reasonable time period, so the company terminated him.

As part of the company policy, W&S sent notification to the state insurance department as to Martino’s termination and the reasons behind it.

Martino filed a lawsuit alleging several claims, including religious discrimination and defamation. The District Court granted summary judgment to the company, and he appealed only the discrimination and defamation claims.

The 7th Circuit affirmed Thursday in Emilio Martino v. Western & Southern Financial Group, 12-1855, holding Martino’s evidence doesn’t call into doubt W&S’s explanation for his discharge, nor does it establish a prima facie case of defamation. There is no evidence of pretext, and the situations of other employees he claims were treated more favorably do not support his position. The judges also found the timing of the I-9 compliance pressure does not support that the company’s explanation for his discharge was pretextual.

Regarding his defamation claim, Martino argued that W&S committed defamation by implication when it sent notice to the state insurance department about his termination. In his mind, the statute requires reporting for specific bad acts, and W&S implied that his discharge was the result of one of those acts.

"Nothing in the form and termination letters sent to the state insurance department was false,” Judge Ann Claire Williams wrote. “Although the Indiana Code did not require W&S to report Martino’s termination to the state insurance department, it did not prevent the company from doing so. No evidence in the record suggests that W&S singled Martino out by reporting his discharge to the state. Rather, W&S simply followed the company’s policy of reporting all involuntary terminations.”

 

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