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Fear lawbreaking? Document before firing

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Some employers don’t necessarily want to confront an employee directly when they suspect that he may be engaged in illegal activity. The threat of violent reprisal is very real.

If you fire the employee, he may sue, alleging some form of discrimination. But if you have documented why you did what you did, chances are the lawsuit will be dismissed.

Recent case: Darnell Turner, who is black, worked in a rented warehouse for Pro-Solutions. The warehouse stored televisions and other equipment, and Turner was one of two black employees. The third was white.

The warehouse owner reported to Pro-Solutions that Turner had offered to sell a television from the warehouse. Concerned that Turner was engaged in criminal activity, Pro-Solutions’ president decided to fire him.

However, he didn’t want to confront Turner directly, fearing that he “could beat me up, he could pull a gun on me.” He worried that “people who sell [stolen] TVs, I think they’re probably a little crazy. I don’t know what else they might do.”

The solution apparently was to fire everyone and tell them that the work was going to be outsourced.

Turner sued, alleging race discrimination.

In court, the company explained why it really had fired everyone. Turner argued that his alleged attempt to sell a television couldn’t be the real reason for his termination, since no one had ever asked him about the matter.

The court dismissed Turner’s case, concluding that employers don’t have to confront employees about theft allegations—they just have to believe those allegations. Whether the move was a good business decision is irrelevant. Companies are free to make honest decisions, even if they are not necessarily wise ones. (Turner v. Pro-Solutions for Chiropractic, No. 09-3064, 3rd Cir., 2010)

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