The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today reversed a district court decision and ruled that former Chesterfield County Director of Human Resources Karla Gerner will be allowed to pursue her claim of wrongful termination due to alleged sexual discrimination. Gerner is suing the County for $1.1 million, alleging that a severance package she was offered was considerably less favorable than the “sweetheart deals” offered her similarly situated male counterparts. In February of 2011, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson dismissed the case relying upon the fact that Gerner had not been contractually entitled to severance benefits.
“Today’s reversal of the district court’s decision is an important victory for employees and a groundbreaking case in the law surrounding severance benefits. It is the first clear statement by a federal court of appeals that Title VII protects against discrimination in the offering of severance benefits, regardless of whether they are contractually owed, offered voluntarily, or otherwise,” said Gerner’s attorney Mark D. Dix, of Bucci & Dix law firm. “It is also this appeals court’s first unequivocal enunciation that Title VII protects former employees against disparate treatment discrimination.”
Gerner was suddenly terminated from her position as the County’s Director of Human Resources in December of 2009, after 26 years of service and less than 4 years from being eligible for full retirement benefits. She was offered a three-month severance package but alleges that her male counterparts had been offered better severance packages. “We are very pleased with today’s decision,” said Dix. “Ms. Gerner is happy that her case will provide better protection to employees throughout the Fourth Circuit if not the nation, and looks forward to bringing her case before a jury.”