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Some employees can’t or won’t acknowledge that they aren’t meeting their employer’s expectations. They ignore negative evaluations, don’t follow through on improvement plans and won’t take direction.

When that happens, you may have no choice but to fire the employee. If you do, don’t worry. Careful documentation will stifle any later lawsuit alleging some form of discrimination.

Recent case: Katrina Brown, who is black, was promoted to a management position at the Ohio State University Medical Center where she was responsible for keeping the surgical unit running smoothly. Almost immediately, surgical workers and doctors started complaining about equipment shortages, scheduling problems and other difficulties.

Brown got a poor review and was demoted when she ignored guidance on improving her performance. She was eventually terminated because of the complaints and allegedly poor communications skills and attitude.

She sued, alleging race discrimination. In court, she pointed out that she did some parts of her job well.

The court said that wasn’t enough. The hospital successfully showed that Brown knew what was expected of her, but she ignored the advice and didn’t try to address issues. Instead, she claimed she had been doing her job just fine. The court ruled in the hospital’s favor. (Brown v. Ohio State University, No. 09-3421, 6th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Help managers understand that they probably will be sued at some point by an angry employee. The best way to get such cases tossed out is to show that the manager made sincere efforts to help the employee improve. That means conducting regular performance evaluations that include honest performance assessments. Grading someone all good or all bad can backfire because such evaluations don’t look fair. Instead, give employees clear directions and goals, plus follow up. That way, the ball is in the employee’s court.

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