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Warn bosses: Loose lips lead to lawsuits

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Some managers can’t seem to understand that they shouldn’t discuss personnel matters with anyone other than the appropriate people within the organization.

Tell managers and supervisors to keep comments about employment-related matters to themselves.

In the following case, a supervisor’s conversation with an outsider may have cost his employer $100,000.

Recent case: Terryn Risk worked as a part-time police officer and openly professed to be very religious. When he started wearing a small cross on his uniform lapel, his supervisor told him to remove it.

Then the police department concluded that it needed to consolidate several part-time positions in order to save money.

About that time, the police supervisor had a conversation with a convenience store clerk about the part-time officers. The clerk presumably knew all the officers from their routine patrols. She recommended that three officers, including Risk, should keep their jobs. Apparently, that was when the supervisor said he wasn’t retaining Risk because his religion kept him from working on Sundays. The clerk told the supervisor that it didn’t seem right to terminate a hard-working cop just because he was religious.

Risk lost his job, and word got back to him that he might have been terminated because of his religious beliefs.

He sued and a jury awarded him $100,000 after hearing the clerk’s testimony. (Risk v. Burgettstown Borough, No. 08-4746, 3rd Cir., 2010)

Final note: Police departments are within their rights in asking police officers to remove religious insignia. But, they need to do so correctly, by explaining that such symbols may be intimidating and may imply that the government sanctions a particular religion. In this case, however, Risk got no explanation and assumed he was being targeted for religious reasons.

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