This Really Takes the Cake

A night manager at an Idaho WinCo grocery store, fired for taking a stale cake to share with her co-workers, has won reinstatement of her gender discrimination lawsuit by a federal appeals court Friday.

Katie Mayes, a 12-year veteran of WinCo and night manager of the freight crew, contends it was not the cake but the company’s desire to put a man in charge of the night-shift freight crew that cost her job and her health benefits and vacation.

Mayes was seeking reinstatement of access to purchase COBRA benefits for her and her seven minor children and credit for her accrued vacation time.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled there was sufficient evidence presented that WinCo’s reason for firing her – theft and dishonesty for taking the cake – was a pretext for getting rid of her for discriminatory reasons. It also held there was a genuine dispute of fact about the true reason for her firing and thus she could be entitled to receive her COBRA benefits.

The appeals court ordered the case back to the trial court in Idaho.

Mayes began work for WinCo in 1999 and was promoted to supervisor of the night-shift freight crew in 2006 and served as a leader in the store safety committee and known by managers to follow store rules, the court said.

She testified that when she first became a manager the store’s general manager gave her permission to take cakes from the store bakery to motivate the crew to stay past the end of their shifts and boost morale. She also kept an in-store log of the cakes taken, the court said.

Stale cakes normally went to a food bank because they could not be sold. Then in 2007, Mayes experienced problems with a general manager Dana Steen, who replaced her on the safety committee. She said Steen told her a “male would be better in that position.”

Mayes said Steen also criticized her because she had young children who prevented her from staying late or coming in on her days off.  In 2011, Steen said she saw video footage of Mayes taking a cake from the stale food cart and began an investigation that ultimately led to Mayes’ dismissal.

Because theft and dishonesty was cited as the cause of the dismissal, Mayes was denied COBRA benefits for herself and her children and denied earned vacation pay.  She sued after local grievance committee claims were denied.

“Mayes’s direct evidence alone is sufficient to defeat summary judgment,” wrote Judge Morgan Christen.  “Mayes could not have stolen a cake that she had permission to take,” Christen wrote. She had no negative performance reviews in 12 years and she was ultimately replaced by a male employee, the court said.

“It was error to dismiss Mayes’ discrimination claims,” Chrsten said. She was joined by Judges Margaret Mckeown and Richard Tallman.

Case: Mayes v. WinCo Holdings, No. 14-35396



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