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Keep cases from escalating: When hot-headed manager blows up, order cooling-off period

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Even the best bosses sometimes blow up. An employee slacks off or messes up, and the manager lashes out. Everyone knows such outbursts shouldn’t happen. That doesn’t mean they won’t.

How you handle the aftermath may make the difference between a jury trial and a smooth return to workplace normalcy.

Take, for example, a disabled employee who has had productivity problems. If her supervisor gets angry and makes stupid comments about the disability and disciplines the employee, chances are the employee may connect the two events. A jury just might, too.

Recent case: Mary Casna worked for the city of Loves Park. Casna lost most of her ability to hear during chemotherapy and wears hearing aids. While her hearing was not a problem when she worked at City Hall, it did become a bone of contention when she was transferred to the police department.

Casna’s new supervisor watched her closely and made extensive notes on her allegedly poor performance. One day, she put a large pile of work on Casna’s desk and then came back shortly after and asked why she hadn’t started filing the papers immediately. The next morning, Casna apologized for not beginning on the pile right away and said she hadn’t heard the supervisor make the request.

According to Casna’s testimony, the supervisor allegedly then snapped at her: “How can you work if you cannot hear?” Casna said she felt threatened and asked the supervisor, “Aren’t you being discriminatory?”

The supervisor walked away and consulted with her superior, who told her to prepare an evaluation. Several days later, Casna was fired.

Casna sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about disability discrimination.

The court said the timing alone, along with the supervisor’s outburst, was enough to warrant a jury trial. Plus, the supervisor admitted she had never evaluated an employee so early in the year before—in fact, there were four more months left on a six-month probationary term before the evaluation would normally have been scheduled. (Casna v. City of Loves Park, No. 07-1044, 7th Cir., 2009)

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