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Goshen company denies discrimination complaint, counter-sues former HR manager

Company said it “maintains robust employee work authorization and identity verification practices.” 

Posted on July 11, 2014 at 8:01 p.m.

A Goshen factory sued by its former human resources manager for allegedly firing her because she refused to hire illegal immigrants has denied the allegations and counter-sued, arguing that she quit after being reprimanded for poor performance.

In May, Taimi Fernandez-Guillot filed a $2 million employment discrimination suit against Crane Composites, which makes fiberglass sidewall finishes for recreational vehicles at a plant at 2424 E. Kercher Road. She alleged she was fired for refusing to hire new employees without verifying the authenticity of their identification. Doing so, she argued, would leave her liable for criminal or civil penalties with federal immigration officials.

The company recruited Fernandez-Guillot from her native Florida to begin the job in November at an annual salary of $90,000 plus performance bonuses. Her suit alleged she eventually learned of many illegal immigrants working at the plant and came to the point where she refused to sign their I-9 forms which verify their legal status to work in the United States.

But in a response filed in court this week, the company denied that allegation, saying it “maintains robust employee work authorization and identity verification practices.”

Crane Composites added Fernandez-Guillot quit after plant manager Mike Ridge and Robert Burton, Crane’s vice president of human resources, gave her a written warning and personal improvement plan “to address her ongoing disrespectful and unprofessional behavior in the workplace.”

"Throughout her tenure at Crane, (Fernandez-Guillot) berated and yelled at co-workers and engaged in other unprofessional, disrespectful and — at times — insubordinate behavior when issues arose in the workplace," the company stated in court records. "This behavior was especially problematic given (Fernandez-Guillot’s) human resource function and role as a manager."

After Fernandez-Guillot refused to sign the personal improvement plan or participate at all in the process, she and Burton agreed that she would quit, the company stated.

"Mr. Burton confirmed the terms of (Fernandez-Guillot’s) voluntary termination in an email to her on March 14, 2014,” the company stated. “(Fernandez-Guillot) confirmed her agreement, writing: ’OK, that’s fine. I agree with the terms stated below.’”

But she never signed the agreement, instead filing suit on May 19. That left her liable to repay the company more than $26,000 in relocation expenses it reimbursed her from her move to Goshen, since she had signed an agreement when hired that she would repay the money if she ever quit or was fired for cause within 18 months. The company seeks to recoup that money from her in the counter-suit.

Fernandez-Guillot’s Indianapolis attorney, Raymon Hafsten, said he won’t allow her to comment on the case until it’s resolved. He said she has since moved back to Florida with her husband and son, and is looking for work.

He said he did not know if she had been reprimanded for poor performance because he hadn’t spoken with her about that issue yet.

"I guess they can say she quit and we’ll say she was terminated, and a jury will have to decide what to believe," Hafsten said. 

He said he wasn’t surprised the company denied they knew they were hiring illegal immigrants, as his clients alleges in the suit, and that it told Fernandez-Guillot not to question job applicants’ identification documents.

"I’ve been at this for over 40 years and I’ve never had an employer confess yet,” he said. “Confessions only happen in church. We’ll have to determine in discovery how many illegal aliens at the plant were hired. We can look for records, perhaps during her tenure.”

Next will come the discovery process, in which both sides gather evidence. Hafsten predicted the suit will take about two years to reach trial.

 


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