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Terminated employee claims discrimination? Warn managers against any sort of retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Hiring,Human Resources,Office Communication,Workplace Communication

Some managers and supervisors can’t leave well enough alone after they terminate an employee. When the former employee files a lawsuit, they try to find a way to strike back. That can be a disaster!

That’s why you must make sure bosses understand the consequences that may flow from a single act of vengeance or anger.

Recent case:  Alonzo Taylor, who is black, was hired as a regional sales representative for Amcor Flexibles. He received a $15,000 sign-on bonus and an annual base salary of $90,000. That meant he was one of the highest-paid sales reps, and perhaps warranted the high expectations the hiring manager had for his apparent talents and experience.

Taylor’s boss was disappointed when complaints started flowing in from customers about Taylor’s poor communication skills, lack of return calls and late paperwork. After placing Taylor on a performance improvement plan, the manager eventually recommended that Taylor be terminated. Amcor Flexibles followed through and fired Taylor.

He sued, alleging race discrimination. He claimed he had really been a top performer and didn’t deserve to be terminated, ascribing the reason as race discrimination.

The court dismissed his race discrimination claim, based in part on the fact that the same supervisor who hired Taylor and arranged his salary and bonus also recommended his termination. It doesn’t make any sense, concluded the court, for a supervisor to hire someone he knows belongs to a protected class and then turn around and fire that same person because he belongs to the protected class.

But that didn’t the end the matter.

Taylor also alleged that, after he was fired and had filed his initial complaint with the EEOC, his wife got a phone call at home early one morning. Allegedly, the caller screamed, “N*****, you filed a complaint against us!” According to Taylor, the caller ID device on his phone revealed that the call came from an Amcor Flexibles phone. Taylor said the phone call was retaliation for engaging in protected activity.

The company claimed no one ever called Taylor’s house, and presented its phone company records allegedly showing that no calls from its exchanges had been made from the company to Taylor.

But Taylor had a photo of his caller ID. That was enough for the court to order a trial on retaliation, even though it dismissed the underlying discrimination claim.

A jury will now decide whether someone from Amcor made the call, whether to believe Taylor’s wife about the words spoken and whether the risk that someone would make racially charged calls to a former employee’s home would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about alleged discrimination. (Taylor v. Amcor Flexibles, No. 07-3477, DC NJ, 2009)

Final note: Make sure managers understand the definition of retaliation: anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from raising claims of possible discrimination in the first place. Remind them too that retaliation isn’t necessarily limited to current employees.

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