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The best defense against bias lawsuits: Equal treatment for all your employees

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in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

An employee who thinks her supervisor is out to get her may be on the lookout for perceived discrimination. She can turn a negative performance appraisal into a bias lawsuit.

The only way to prepare for surprise lawsuits is to consistently treat all employees alike and document that fair treatment. For example, performance evaluations should include as many objective measures as possible, making it easier to compare employees.

Recent case: Brenda Cothran, who is black, worked for the U.S. Postal Service and claimed her Hispanic supervisor discriminated against her because of her race. Two days after filing an internal complaint, Cothran got a negative performance appraisal that noted a specific area where she had failed to meet goals set for her by a previous supervisor.

Cothran sued, alleging the appraisal was retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

But the boss was ready, explaining to the court that another employee, who was not black, got exactly the same rating because she failed to meet the same goal. Plus, the supervisor explained the timing: Cothran had been required to turn in evaluations on a specific date. In other words, it was just coincidence that the evaluation was completed two days after Cothran complained.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Texas employers, dismissed the case. (Cothran v. Potter, No. 10-10396, 5th Cir., 2010)

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