When it comes to termination, courts cut employers lots of slack—if employers can show they sincerely believed they were firing an employee for good reasons.
That’s true even if the employer was somehow wrong, as employees overwhelmingly tend to claim.
Simply put, courts defer to employers that act in good faith. You can show that good faith by having HR review all disciplinary actions, especially double-checking on termination decisions before they are finalized.
Recent case: Show Ann Chen worked in collections for Dow Chemical and wasn’t pleased when the company instituted a new, companywide performance tracking system. She preferred to work the way she always had when collecting overdue accounts.
Unfortunately, customers complained about her, co-workers got into confrontations, and she essentially couldn’t—or wouldn’t—learn the new system. She was placed on a performance improvement plan and warned that her job was in jeopardy. Supervisors began cataloging her mistakes and failure to follow guidelines.
About the same time, Chen complained to the company ethics hotline that she was being discriminated against and denied her rights. Dow officials investigated and concluded she wasn’t the victim of discrimination.
Chen was then terminated after HR, supervisors and someone from the legal staff met. The team reviewed all the performance documentation and made the final decision.
She sued, alleging race discrimination. The court tossed out her case, reasoning that Dow had plenty of documentary evidence to support its belief that Chen wasn’t performing her job as well as the company expected. (Chen v. Dow Chemical, No. 08-1597, 6th Cir., 2009)
- Document all disciplinary actions, including why and when you decided to act
- When discrimination is at issue, manager's race alone doesn't imply prejudice
- Bullying: The workplace's equal opportunity problem
- Let managers know they may be held personally liable for bias
- Workplace dating policies: Employer's guide