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Fairness, careful documentation are key to discipline process that will stand up in court

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Are some of your supervisors so gun-shy about getting sued that they hold back on discipline? That’s a big mistake.

The fact of the matter is that as long as an employer carefully documents the disciplinary process with solid evidence, chances are any lawsuit will be quickly dismissed.

Recent case: Earnest Parish is black and worked in customer serv­ice. After he was promoted to call center supervisor, one of his new subordinates began complaining to higher-ups that Parish was treating them unfairly.

Around the same time, one of Parish’s supervisors prepared a performance evaluation that said Parish wasn’t meeting expectations. Another executive agreed with that assessment.

That’s when Parish complained that it was he who was being treated unfairly, allegedly because of his race.

Parish was placed on a performance improvement plan after the employer investigated the allegations and interviewed subordinates. When Parish’s performance didn’t get better, he was offered a chance to go back to his old job or face discharge.

He chose the demotion—and then he sued.

The court quickly tossed out the case, concluding that Parish could not show he was living up to his employer’s reasonable performance expectations. (Parish v. Siemens Medical Solutions, No. 10-1813, 4th Cir., 2011)

Final note: It helped that two supervisors shared a poor opinion of Parish’s performance. It also helped that the company gave Parish an opportunity to improve, and a chance to go back to a position he had handled well in the past.

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