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Courts give employers benefit of doubt: Not all ‘unfair’ treatment is discrimination

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Courts don’t have time, resources or inclination to micromanage employers. Unless an employee can show she has been treated unfairly for an illegal reason like age discrimination, not every “unfair” decision will end in a successful lawsuit. Consider what happened in one recent case.

Recent case: Patricia Speck worked as a nursing coordinator for a sexual-assault resource center until she quit over what she believed was unequal treatment based on her age.

Speck apparently had a long history of claiming that she had been singled out for unwarranted criticism at work. She said the stress caused heart problems. Speck’s doctor recommended that she take medical leave and she did.

While on that leave, she asked her employer to send her to a nursing conference.

The center’s managers refused, perhaps after concluding that if she was too sick to work, she was in no condition to attend a work-related conference. Her employer sent a younger co-worker instead.

Speck quit, and the younger co-worker took over Speck’s old job. Speck concluded that age discrimination must have been the reason she was denied the opportunity to go to the conference. She sued.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out her case. The court pointed out that while it might have seemed unfair for the younger co-worker to go to the conference, that wasn’t enough to prove age discrimination. (Speck v. City of Memphis, No. 09-5213, 6th Cir., 2010)

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