When an employee tries to challenge his employer’s decision to discharge him based on some form of discrimination, he has to show that the reasons for the firing weren’t legitimate.
It’s not good enough to knock down just one of the reasons. He has to show all of them were suspect.
That’s why it’s important to document in your files each legitimate discharge reason—at the time you make the decision.
Recent case: Rick Jackson, who is white, worked as a prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office for 17 years. Then Craig Watkins, who is black, was elected district attorney. He terminated several prosecutors, including Jackson, whom he initially replaced with a black attorney.
Jackson sued, alleging race discrimination.
Watkins provided the court with several reasons why he fired Jackson. Among them was the claim that his interactions with Jackson had been negative and that he wanted to bring a new image to the office.
Jackson wasn’t able to dispute that Watkins had a negative impression of him. However, he argued that he didn’t have to show that each stated reason was wrong.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It said that as long as one of the employer’s reasons stood unchallenged, the case should be dismissed. (Jackson v. Watkins, et al., No. 09-10635, 5th Cir., 2010)
Final note: The court reminded everyone that employers don’t have to make the best decisions—just nondiscriminatory decisions. In this case, the judges expressed concern that career prosecutors had been fired, but couldn’t find solid evidence that the real reason was race rather than other factors that employers are allowed to use.
The court said it was not deciding whether the desire for a new image is a legitimate discharge reason.
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