Finally, Some Bold HR

By Michael J. O'Brien/Talent Management Columnist

Human resources may not exactly be the business function that people first think of when the word "bold" is used. But one woman in Indiana is single-handedly changing the perception of HR, at least in the eyes of this industry observer.

According to a recent story written by Jeff Parrott, a business reporter for The Elkhart Truth newspaper in northern Indiana, Taimi Fernandez-Guillot recently moved from her native Florida to Goshen, Ind., to take on an HR manager job at Crane Composites Inc., which makes fiberglass sidewall finishes for recreational vehicles.

This past February, Parrott writes, Fernandez-Guillot fired a worker for providing false identification, but then the worker told her he had worked there before under a different name, and that most of the plant's workers were illegal. So she launched an audit and discovered "extensive illegal employees" at the plant, she alleges in a lawsuit she filed against Crane in the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana in South Bend, asking for $2 million in damages.

Shortly thereafter, however, the story takes a chilling turn: Her direct supervisor, Divisional Human Resources Vice President Robert Burton, told her to get rid of any copies of employee identifications and proofs attached to their immigration forms, but she refused, the suit alleges. Burton had told her to accept any identification that job applicants provided, saying, "... whatever they give you ... accept then sign the [immigration form] ... don't inspect ... don't do anything ... you are not [a U.S. immigration official] ... just sign," according to the claim.

But Fernandez-Guillot says she refused to sign new employees under these conditions, and she instead contacted an executive at Crane's Channahon, Ill., headquarters, with the goal of "outlining the systemic issues of undocumented workers at the Goshen plant," the suit alleges.

Burton then fired Fernandez-Guillot, telling her, "you're just not a team player ... you have burned enough bridges, and our people are not willing to give you a second chance," according to the suit.

"In contravention of the public policy of the state of Indiana, defendants terminated the plaintiff for her refusal to engage in behavior for which she could have been criminally or civilly liable for perjury regarding required United States Homeland Security [policies] for employee hiring and continued employment," the suit alleges.

The suit seeks $1.5 million for economic loss and compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages. At the time Parrot filed his story, Crane Composites had yet to file a response in court, and an official at its Channahon site did not return a call to him seeking comment, nor did the company respond to my request for comment.

Raymond Hafsten Jr., Fernandez-Guillot's attorney, told Parrott that Crane Composites is a publicly traded company with a solid reputation.

"This is very surprising," he said. "I'd like to assume the parent company had its blinders on. As the complaint says, this is pretty bold."

But not as bold, allegedly, as Fernandez-Guillot. And for that reason, she should be held up as a shining example to other HR practitioners who may face similarly difficult decisions in their own organizations.

Michael J. O'Brien can be reached at mobrien@lrp.com.

 

Jun 17, 2014
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