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Last-minute complaint shouldn’t derail firing

by on
in Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Employees who know they’re in trouble often look for ways to set up a lawsuit in case they’re fired. They may file some sort of discrimination complaint right before termination, assuming that they can prove—based on timing alone—that their complaint is what prompted discharge.

This can be a winning strategy if the employer hasn’t been careful to document performance or other problems all along.

Don’t get caught in that trap. Care­­fully document the run-up to discharge by compiling critical performance ­reviews, warnings and other progressive discipline. The key is to start creating a paper trail at the first ink­ling of performance problems.

Recent case: Claude Cummings coached the women’s basketball team at Texas Southern University (TSU). The team had five straight losing seasons. Team members regularly missed many study halls and had subpar academic records.

TSU hired a new president, who hired a new athletic director. The new administration right away fired two coaches. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Cummings complained to the athletic director that the women’s sports programs at the university were not in compliance with Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.

Two weeks later, Cummings was also terminated. He sued, alleging he had been fired in retaliation for complaining about gender inequality in the sports programs.

But the university showed the court that Cummings had been warned for at least a year about his poor performance and losing record, plus his players’ academic records.

That proof made it unlikely that Cummings’ complaint two weeks before being fired had anything to do with his termination.

The judge tossed out his case. (Cummings v. Texas Southern University, No. 10-1096, SD TX, 2011)

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