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When fists fly, make sure you get facts straight

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in Human Resources

When employers discipline employees following an argument or other confrontation, getting the facts straight is crucial.

Recent case: Kevin Phillips, who is black, was fired after he got into a fight with a white supervisor. Another supervisor witnessed the incident. However, Phillips was the only one involved who was punished.

Phillips sued, alleging that his white supervisor had actually started the fight by punching him and yelling at him to wake up. He reasoned that since his supervisor was white and wasn’t punished, the employer was discriminating on the basis of race.

The court said the case should go to trial—Phillips can try to convince a jury that his account of the incident is true. If so, the court said not punishing the white supervisor might be direct evidence of discrimination. (Phillips v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 08-CV-4686, DC MN, 2009)

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