Before disciplining or discharging an employee based on a supervisor’s recommendation, make sure you independently investigate the reason. That’s the only surefire way to avoid “rubber-stamping” a biased supervisor’s hidden agenda.
What’s an independent investigation? It is one in which you ask for all supporting documentation, speak with everyone involved and draw conclusions based on what you learn.
Be sure to document the entire process, along with your final decision.
Recent case: Vita McVille, who is white, filed a lawsuit claiming she was terminated from her health care job because her black supervisor was biased against her because of her race. The boss had recommended firing McVille because she allegedly failed to obtain a doctor’s approval before transferring a patient. He also accused her of removing a catheter in a way that traumatized the patient.
But the black supervisor didn’t make the final termination decision. Instead, a white facilities administrator did. Before she ordered McVille’s termination, the administrator reviewed the documentation. She also took into account earlier disciplinary actions against McVille, including an incident in which McVille gave a patient medication prescribed for another patient.
Because the administrator’s final decision was based on her own independent investigation and conclusion, the court said any possible bias on the part of the black supervisor was irrelevant. The court dismissed McVille’s case. (McVille v. Inter-Community Health Care, No. 11-30304, 5th Cir., 2012)
Final note: Keep in mind that courts don’t want to second-guess your employment decisions. If you give the judge a clear picture of a fair process, chances are your decision will stand. That doesn’t mean your decision has to be the right one, or even a smart one. It just has to be transparent, based on thoughtful consideration and independent judgment.
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