Here’s a problem that can easily slip HR’s notice and lead to a discrimination lawsuit: Watch out if a supervisor starts keeping extra-close tabs on an employee’s work in the wake of declining productivity or a poor review. You must make sure all employees in a similar situation get the same close attention.
Here’s why: If the subordinate belongs to a protected class, the increased scrutiny may be discriminatory.
Recent case: Austin Coleman, who is black, worked as sales manager for Oracle. For several years, he met his sales quotas and got excellent reviews. Then his performance declined and he earned less-than-stellar appraisal scores.
He also apparently earned closer scrutiny of his work by his manager. Finally, he was terminated.
Coleman sued, alleging race discrimination. He said several white sales managers had similar declining performance scores, but hadn’t been singled out for additional oversight.
Oracle argued that it had a legitimate reason for terminating Coleman: his declining sales.
But the court said Coleman wasn’t suing over that aspect of his termination. Instead, he was suing because the additional scrutiny he received was discrimination based on his race. The court said the case could go forward on that basis. (Coleman v. Oracle, No. 09-3472, DC MN, 2011)
Final note: HR should be closely involved with all performance-improvement efforts. That’s the only way to know if a supervisor is unfairly scrutinizing a particular employee while giving others a free pass.