Mayes v. WinCo Holdings, Inc., 846 F.3d 1274 (9th Cir. 2017)

Katie Mayes worked at WinCo for 12 years in Idaho Falls, Idaho. During her last years at WinCo, she supervised employees on the night-shift freight crew. Mayes was fired for taking a stale cake from the store bakery to the break room to share with fellow employees and telling a loss prevention investigator that management had given her permission to do so. WinCo deemed Mayes’ actions to constitute theft and dishonesty and also determined that her behavior rose to the level of “gross misconduct,” thus rendering her ineligible for COBRA benefits.  Mayes alleged that the reason offered by WinCo for her termination was pretext and that the real reason was that the company wanted to put a man in charge of the freight crew instead of Mayes. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of WinCo, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that there was “ample direct evidence of discriminatory animus” from the general manager, Dana Steen, including Steen’s alleged statement that she “did not like ‘a girl’ running the freight crew.”  The Court also noted that Mayes presented evidence that WinCo replaced her with a less qualified male employee and that it was a “common, accepted practice” for supervisors to take cakes to the break room. In reversing the summary judgment, the Court further noted that if Mayes was fired for discriminatory reasons, she may be entitled to COBRA benefits (i.e., there was no “gross misconduct”) and that she may be entitled to unpaid vacation benefits.