Judge: Sex discrimination suit against Hershey may proceed
A former Hershey Co. executive who said she was discriminated against and fired following a romance with her boss may proceed with her federal lawsuit against the firm, a judge has ruled.
MaryAnn Misiolek, formerly director of product costing/capital administration-global financing, said she was denied transfer requests after the relationship ended, and then fired over submission of travel expenses for a business trip.
In both cases, Misiolek said she was treated differently than male employees.
Misiolek, who had been employed by Hershey for 14 years prior to her October 2014 termination, filed suit against the Dauphin County candy company last November.
Hershey sought dismissal of the suit, but U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III denied that request this week.
Jones did, however, reject Misiolek's claims regarding her transfer requests.
According to her suit, Misiolek became involved in a consensual romantic relationship with Joseph Carlin, the company's senior director, finance-global operations, starting in August 2013.
Efforts to reach attorneys for Misiolek and Hershey were not immediately successful. A message left for Carlin was not immediately returned.
That relationship did not violate any Hershey policies, Misiolek maintains, and had no impact on her performance.
Hershey's attorneys have argued that the pair violated company policies regarding consensual relationships, travel expenses and business, and lied about it.
In June 2014, Misiolek's suit claims, at her urging Carlin reported the relationship to Hershey's human resources department.
The relationship ended about a month later, and Misiolek "no longer felt comfortable working under Mr. Carlin," the suit states.
Misiolek maintains she requested transfer to a different unit and supervisor, but was repeatedly denied.
Misiolek argued that internal transfers were routinely granted to male executives, and that officials blocked her move to make her uncomfortable so that she would resign.
Jones did dismiss Misiolek's claims that the transfer refusals be included in Misiolek's suit, noting that those claims never surfaced during a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigation into Misiolek's allegations before they reached the courts.
"Without a single factual allegation in support ... we cannot find that Ms. Misiolek’s argument has merit," Jones wrote.
Misiolek's suit states that on Oct. 27, 2014, she "was interrogated by human resources personnel" regarding expense reports she submitted "at Mr. Carlin's behest" for a February 2014 business trip to New York.
She was immediately suspended for two weeks pending further investigation, the suit says.
Two days later, however, Misiolek was terminated with neither a letter nor a reason, her suit states.
"Hershey permitted male employees with sustained violations of expense reporting policies to pay back the amount of any transgression, not terminate them or take further disciplinary action," the suit states.
Hershey says its HR personnel began to suspect misconduct in late September 2014, "despite previous denials of any relationship between the two," and started an investigation.
"HR interviewed (Misiolek) and Mr. Carlin separately to confront them about their suspicious travel expenses and about the relationship they had denied, which violated Hershey policy requiring them to report the situation," Hershey lawyers wrote.
Hershey said Misiolek insisted that she did not have a romantic relationship with Carlin, and "also lied about sharing a hotel room with Mr. Carlin in New York, which Mr. Carlin admitted to doing in his interview."
"Accordingly, having found that they violated several company policies," Hershey terminated both Misiolek and Carlin, the company's lawyers state.
But Jones this week replied that he had insufficient information about Carlin's termination at this "early stage in litigation," adding that the court "cannot presume based on Hershey’s briefings that Mr. Carlin was indeed fired for the same misconduct as Ms. Misiolek."
Hershey also argued that Misiolek "failed to allege that similarly situated male employees were treated more favorably than she under similar circumstances," the judge said.
Jones rejected that argument, too, noting that Misiolek names "several men in senior management positions" who were allowed to pay back reimbursements with no further consequences.
Misiolek is seeking unspecified amounts of back pay, lost wages and benefits, punitive damages and costs.