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Words no supervisors should ever utter: ‘troublemaker’ and ‘get rid of’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

There is no good reason for any manager or executive to ever use the term “troublemaker” or the phrase “get rid of” in the workplace. No matter whom the comments are directed at, they can easily be interpreted as an excuse for some form of discrimination.

Recent case: Aleather Thompson, who is black, worked for 20 years as a food production supervisor in a hospital. Then the hospital contracted with a food service company to run the kitchen. While Thompson was on leave, the hospital and food service company reorganized job duties and responsibilities, including Thompson’s. But no one told her.

A newly created position—Chef I—was posted and a candidate selected. He happened to be white. Then, when Thompson returned to work, she was terminated.

She sued, alleging race discrimination.

Her white replacement testified that he had been told by his new supervisor that Thompson had been a “troublemaker” and that the hospital wanted to “get rid of” three other “troublemakers” who just happened to be black. The hospital argued that it had created an entirely new position, and that no one actually replaced Thompson.

The court didn’t buy the argument. It reasoned that, under the circumstances, “getting rid of troublemakers” might be code for getting rid of black employees. And changing the job description could have amounted to nothing more than an excuse to discharge a black employee. (Thompson v. UHHS Richmond Heights Hospital, et al., No. 08-4435, 6th Cir., 2010)

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