County Library Fired Its H.R. Director After He Tried to Discipline a No-Show
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (May 16, 2022) — A Maryland jury today found that the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System acted illegally when it fired its human resources director in 2019. It awarded Jeffrey Naftal more than $300,000 in damages.
The six-person jury found that Mr. Naftal’s firing violated both the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act and the Prince George’s County Code, discriminating against him based on his age, sex, and race.
Mr. Naftal is represented by The Employment Law Group® law firm.
In the three years prior to his termination, Mr. Naftal had never been disciplined or received negative evaluations. Despite a library practice that requires step-by-step or “progressive” discipline — and a county code that allows firing only for a few specific reasons — the library’s CEO dismissed Mr. Naftal without warning after he recommended the suspension of an employee with attendance problems.
Mr. Naftal is a white man in his early sixties. Jurors heard that his even-handed application of union-agreed rules was out-of-step with the philosophy of the CEO, Roberta Phillips, who replaced him with a younger Black woman and renamed the position “Director of Talent and Culture.”
Maryland law and the Prince George’s County Code forbid employment decisions that are motivated by age, race, or sex bias, among other factors.
As HR director, Mr. Naftal was supposed to assist supervisors in disciplining library employees. But when a manager asked for his advice on a particularly troublesome employee — and concurred with the proposed suspension — Ms. Phillips showed her disagreement by escorting Mr. Naftal permanently out of his office. The library’s board of trustees later formalized Mr. Naftal’s termination.
At trial, jurors heard about the library’s shifting justifications for firing Mr. Naftal. They also heard a dubious account from Ms. Phillips: Among other things, the CEO swore to the authenticity of a document that the library had suddenly produced on the eve of trial — and that referred to events that hadn’t happened at the time she said it was created.
A later witness offered a different explanation for the problematic document, but admitted he was just speculating: He didn’t actually know where it came from, he testified.
The trial also included several examples of properly administered progressive discipline, all of which differed starkly from Mr. Naftal’s abrupt firing.
“Jeff is a highly competent public servant who was just doing his job,” said R. Scott Oswald, managing principal of The Employment Law Group, who served as Mr. Naftal’s lead lawyer at trial. “For following library policy to the letter, he was stereotyped as a harsh, out-of-touch old white man. But the people of Prince George’s County know injustice when they see it — and we are grateful that this jury has held the library to account. Discrimination is discrimination, period.”
Naftal v. Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
Case No. CAL19-26429
Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland
Complaint filed on August 8, 2019 (available here)
About The Employment Law Group
The Employment Law Group® law firm represents whistleblowers and other employees who stand up to wrongdoing in the workplace. Based in Washington, D.C., the firm takes cases nationwide.