When newor HR leaders arrive at a company, they may realize that the old guard failed to hold employees to high productivity goals. As a result, they may shift gears and set tougher standards. Employees accustomed to the status quo and the good evaluations may be taken by surprise and suspect discrimination.
To prevent lawsuits, clarify your new expectations far in advance of employees'. Prepare a list of specific, measurable goals for employees, then let them know that you'll use those "measuring sticks" when evaluation time comes along. Require employees to sign an acknowledgment form that says they've read and understand the new expectations.
If you told employees what you expect from now on—and then apply the new expectations consistently—those old "excellent" evaluations from years past won't be relevant to a court considering a discrimination lawsuit.
Recent case: When Robert Creely worked for a health services company, he generally received positive evaluations. But after Genesis Health acquired the company, Creely started receiving contradictory evaluations that rated him lower.
After a break in service, Creely, a white male, reapplied but wasn't hired. He claimed reverse discrimination and sued. The 3rd Circuit dismissed the case, saying that so long as the later evaluations methods were fair and consistently applied to everyone, those lower evaluations aren't proof of discrimination. (Creely v. Genesis Health Ventures, No. 05-2919, 3rd Cir., 2006)