If you're reluctant to settle an EEOC case out of fear that it will set a precedent for other claims made against your organization, here's a piece of good news: An employee can't base a discrimination claim on a settlement that you reached with another employee.
Recent case: AT&T terminated Christine Ramon when she exhausted her short-term disability leave and didn't return to work on time. She sued, alleging discrimination.
As proof, she pointed to another employee whom AT&T had given three extra days to return to work after using up her disability leave. That convinced Ramon that AT&T had a "three-day grace period" for coming back to work but it had refused to let her use it.
AT&T insisted that it didn't have a grace-period policy and said the other employee kept her job as part of a confidential settlement. The 11th Circuit agreed, concluding that Ramon couldn't base a discrimination claim on another employee's confidential settlement. (Ramon v. AT&T Broadband, No. 05-15143, 11th Cir., 2006)
Final tip: If possible, insist on keeping settlements confidential. That avoids a public record of alleged discrimination that could put ideas into other employees' heads.
- Enforce e-mail usage rules--if only to avoid PR nightmare
- Feel free to discipline or fire if it's warranted -- regardless of employee's FMLA status
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