Courts seldom second-guess firing decisions if employers can articulate solid reasons for the discharge—and take the time to document their decision-making processes.
That’s because employees who want to challenge their employer’s termination decisions have to raise suspicions that the employer’s reason was not credible and that it wasn’t really a motivating factor in the decision. That’s a tall order for the employee if you’ve done your job right.
Recent case: Retha Miller, who is black, worked as a director at a day care center. The regional manager is white. When a child was hurt at the center and a doctor suspected he had been choked with a rope, police got involved, as did state welfare authorities.
While the investigation was ongoing, Miller opened the day care center with just one employee. That violated state day care rules. Miller’s supervisor warned her and explained the state rule. Soon after, Miller again opened the center without enough staff. This time she was fired.
Miller sued, alleging race discrimination.
But she had no evidence to show the decision wasn’t legitimate. It was clear that Miller was terminated for breaking a rule that put the center’s license in jeopardy. Nothing Miller said made that reason seem weak, implausible, inconsistent or contradictory to the employer’s explanation of why it fired her. (Miller v. Kindercare Learning Center, No. 08-3095, 3rd Cir., 2009)
Final note: Remember, you can’t prevent all lawsuits—but you can build better cases to win them.
- Novartis settles class-action sex bias suit--for $175 million
- Paper trail cuts both ways if it shows unequal discipline
- Post promotion opportunities to avoid needless litigation
- Offer several ways to complain of harassment to guard against supervisor inaction
- Employees can't hide behind FMLA to dodge legitimate discipline