Issue: Should HR question a supervisor's plans to fire an employee?
Risk: If you take a termination report at face value, you may overlook bias by a manager.
Action: Ask questions to verify that discrimination hasn't tainted any part of the process, and urge supervisors to do the same.
When it comes to discrimination, what you don't know can hurt you.
As the following case shows, your organization won't escape liability from discrimination merely by having a neutral, unbiased person perform the firing. If an employee can prove that discrimination tainted just one piece of the firing decision, even in an earlier, your organization can be held liable.
That's why it's important to reiterate this fact to supervisors who have hiring/firing authority: It's their job to make sure discrimination does not taint any part of the hiring or firing process, including reviews.
Then, conduct your own independent investigation before acting. Find out if the information you're receiving from supervisors is true and whether the supervisor has ever shown discriminatory tendencies toward the worker.
Recent case: John Cariglia, who was in his 60s, was a successful manager at the Boston branch of Hertz Equipment Rental. But the division VP, who supervised Cariglia, belittled Cariglia because of his age, calling him "over the hill."
The VP launched a series of internal audits against Cariglia's branch, telling a regional controller to dig until he found something to "get rid of Cariglia." The audit revealed a minor financial irregularity.
The VP sent the setup audit report to Hertz's senior, who promptly fired Cariglia without asking questions.
Cariglia sued, alleging age discrimination. He won.
Hertz had argued that Cariglia couldn't win because the firing's decision makers (senior management) showed no bias against Cariglia. That doesn't matter, the court said, noting that an employer can be liable for discrimination if a neutral person makes a firing decision based on information that's tainted by someone's discriminatory motives. (Cariglia v. Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., No. 02-2199, 1st Cir., 2004)
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