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Firing a troublemaker? Focus on concrete business reasons

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

When it comes time to fire a difficult employee, focus on clear and easily explained legitimate-business reasons for the action you want to take. That means documenting any work problems and relating those problems to the major job functions you hired the employee to perform.

As the following case shows, courts are reluctant to second-guess employers when those employers come forward with a clear, concise and legitimate reason for that decision.

Recent case: James Ward, a black male, was hired as an associate professor and coordinator of a Masters in Public Administration program at Midwestern State University (MSU), on a one-year employment contract.

Soon after, MSU observed disturbing behavior by the professor. Ward shouted at other faculty members and criticized them during faculty meetings. He then missed many of the faculty meetings himself.

MSU concluded that Ward was unsuited for the position and didn’t renew his contract.

Ward sued, alleging race discrimination. The 5th Circuit sided with the school and upheld its contract nonrenewal because the decision was based on legitimate expectations that Ward did not meet. Without more direct evidence of race discrimination, the court wasn’t willing to second-guess what appeared to be a rational business decision. (Ward v. Midwestern State University, No. 05-10800, 5th Cir., 2007)  

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