Another slow news day, another fun case: the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in favor of Frito Lay, Inc. and against a former route sales representative who was fired for using his saliva to remove the "best before" dates from expired products. Click here to read the decision in Cantu v. Frito Lay, Inc.
When one of Frito Lay’s customers caught Cantu using his spit to remove expiration dates, it banned him from entering any of its many stores; Frito Lay then terminated him, following its policy to terminate any employee who is banned from a customers’ premises. Cantu sued Frito Lay claiming age and sex discrimination, because Frito Lay did not also fire a younger female sales rep who was also banned from the same customer’s stores.
Well, it turned out not to be so simple. The younger female employee was banned from only one store because she was gossiping about that store’s manager, who happened to be her relative; further, that manager intervened and asked that she not be reprimanded. Cantu, on the other hand, was barred from all of the customer’s stores, and as the court noted, had “wiped bags of Frito-Lay chips with his saliva, conduct that is qualitatively different and distinct from the imprudent sharing of personal information.”
Is there a lesson to be learned here? We can think of two. First, don’t use spit to remove expiration dates. Really. Second, when disciplining employees, make sure that you apply consistent standards to similar behaviors. Cantu lost because the younger female employee was not similarly situated, as she had engaged in much less egregious misconduct. Had she also been caught smearing her spit on the merchandise, the case may have turned out differently.