Reductions in force (RIFs) are a fertile ground for employee lawsuits to sprout up. But as this ruling last week shows, even when a company conducts a perfectly good RIF procedure, it can be torpedoed in court by a manager’s untimely comments …
Case in Point: Karen Talbot worked as a sales account executive for a Louisiana trucking company. Her boss, Greg Taylor, often referenced Bible verses to support his views that wives should be subservient to their husbands. He told Talbot that “her place is with her family” and that she needed to focus on her children. He allegedly told her that “sales is not for women,” and that “trucking is a man's world.” Some of the comments were even written into e-mails.
When another sales executive position opened up, Taylor hired a male for the job. But he paid the male worker $10,000 more than Talbot and gave him other perks that she didn’t initially receive. Then, with the economy melting away, one of them had to go.
Naturally, the boss tossed Talbot out. And, naturally, she sued for sex discrimination.
Here’s what interesting: The court found that the company offered a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for keeping the male employee over Talbot. As the trucking company pointed out, the man had “broader industry experience and could better work in multiple different capacities.”
A victory, right? Not so fast. Although the company followed correct RIF procedures, the court said the boss’ repeated comments “suggest a certain animus towards women.” So it allowed Talbot's sex bias case to go to trial. (Talbot v. Broyles Group LLC, W.D. La., 2/23/11)
3 Lessons Learned … Without Going to Court
1. Train. Managers and supervisors must be trained about all the EEO laws and how their comments could have a legal and financial impact.
2. Filter. Managers and supervisors should filter out all discriminatory comments both orally and in writing. If you can’t say it, you can’t email it.
3. Discipline. This supervisor should have been monitored and disciplined. Who is monitoring your supervisors?
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