Bad timing can make all the difference. That’s especially true in employment law. Employers that terminate workers shortly after they complained about some form of discrimination are almost certain to find themselves defending against a retaliation lawsuit. And if they don’t have a bulletproof defense, it won’t be pretty.
Before approving any post-complaint termination, make sure you can unequivocally show that the employee would have lost her job no matter what. You can do that with a convincing economic justification, that shows a pattern of or other objective reasons.
On the other hand, think twice before firing a good employee who has complained. If she can prove she earned excellent reviews and had good attendance, she may win a jury trial based on timing alone.
Recent case: Belinda Egan began working for Freedom Bank as a vice president and was soon being asked to meet with a member of the bank’s board of directors. During one meeting that took place in a restaurant, the director allegedly told Egan he had fantasies about her and wanted to make love to her.
Egan rejected his proposition and complained to HR. After an investigation, the board member was asked to resign and did. But a few months later, Egan herself was terminated due to alleged economic problems.
Egan sued, alleging retaliation for reporting sexual harassment.
She explained that she had received glowing reviews until she complained. She also pointed out that the bank had hired four new employees around the same time it terminated her.
That led the court to order a jury trial. A jury will now decide if Egan was terminated in retaliation for her sexual harassment complaint or for economic reasons. (Egan v. Freedom Bank, No. 10-1214, 7th Cir., 2011)
- Beware disciplining worker who has claimed harassment
- When deciding layoffs, rely on several objective factors
- Must we accommodate this employee's beliefs? She says witchcraft is her religion!
- OK to terminate disabled employee if effort to accommodate is unsuccessful
- Don't push for exam if employee can do job