Here’s something to remember when you’re worried about firing someone because you might get sued: Judges don’t want to run HR departments. As long as HR acts honestly and believes the employee should be fired because she broke a company rule, chances are a lawsuit won’t succeed.
Recent case: Chestine Clay, who is black, managed the optical department at a Walmart store. Over the years, she complained several times about discrimination. Each time, the company concluded her allegations were unfounded.
Then Clay alleged retaliation. She said managers treated her with unspecified “disrespect” and sometimes ignored her during meetings.
Clay was fired after a manager discovered she had called an hourly subordinate at home and spent 90 minutes discussing work. The reason? Walmart has a no off-the-clock work policy designed to eliminate unauthorized work. The manager believed the conversation violated that rule.
Clay sued, alleging she had been retaliated against by being slighted in meetings and had been fired for reporting discrimination.
The court dismissed both claims, reasoning that the alleged disrespect wouldn’t dissuade anyone from filing a discrimination complaint. Plus, if the manager and the professionals involved in Clay’s discharge reasonably believed that Clay violated the off-the-clock work policy, the firing was legitimate and not a pretext to get back at Clay for complaining. (Chivers, et al., v. Wal-Mart, No. 10-2414, 8th Cir., 2011)
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