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Firing? Here’s when to keep manager out of it

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Employees who are fired shortly after complaining about a manager’s supposed discriminatory attitude may assume that the complaint led to the termination. And they’re almost sure to sue.

To stop such lawsuits from going far, make sure the manager in question has nothing to do with the final decision to terminate. That’s good advice even if you don’t think he or she did anything wrong.

Recent case: Andre Berry, who is black, was hired as a manager for Empire Home Services, which sells and installs floor coverings.

Berry complained almost immediately that a manager who had trained him asked if Berry was “the token black” employee. Later, the same manager allegedly told salespeople not to prospect in predominately black and Hispanic neighborhoods. The manager denied making either statement.

Later, Empire was investigating alleged wrongdoing and claimed to have discovered that Berry arranged for his mother to have $6,000 worth of carpet installed in her home. The company also concluded Berry failed to follow company rules when he terminated an office manager and then allowed her to delete files from the company computer before leaving work. He was fired for poor performance.

Berry sued, alleging discrimination.

But the company successfully showed that the manager who allegedly made the racially charged comments had nothing to do with the discharge decision, providing no input at all. The court tossed out Berry’s case. (Berry v. Empire Home Services, et al., No. 06-2354, ED NY, 2010)

Final note: Of course, don’t ignore it if you hear a manager has made hostile comments. Investigate those claims and, if they prove founded, discipline the manager.

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