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Manager recommends discipline or firing? Investigate before agreeing to go along

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s something to consider the next time you authorize discipline or discharge: It pays to independently investigate management’s underlying reasons for the action.

Do that even if the employee in question doesn’t belong to a traditional protected class. Reason: Reverse discrimination is also illegal. Plus, rubber-stamping a discrimination-tainted recommendation is never a good idea.

Recent case: Margaret Branscomb was hired as a bridal gown alterations specialist at the same time the company hired a Hispanic alterations specialist. The Hispanic employee didn’t have any experience, while Brans­­comb did. The two managers who supervised both women were also Hispanic.

Shortly after she was hired, Brans­comb was terminated. The manager who made the decision was not His­­panic, but acted on the Hispanic man­­agers’ recommendations.

Branscomb sued, alleging reverse discrimination. She claimed the His­­panic managers treated Branscomb with disrespect and disdain. She also pointed out that brides typically liked her alterations better than the other woman’s.

The employer argued that, since the same individuals participated in Brans­­comb’s hiring and discharge, they couldn’t have been prejudiced and therefore couldn’t have discriminated.

But the court said there are limits to the presumption that the person who hired someone knowing their race, won’t turn around and fire that employee because of prejudice. It said Branscomb’s case deserved a jury trial to determine if the His­­panic managers recommended retaining the Hispanic alterations specialist because of her ethnicity and therefore practiced reverse discrimination. (Branscomb v. Group USA, No. 11-15067, 9th Cir., 2012)

Final note: You can never know what secret prejudice lurks in a super­­visor’s heart. That’s why you must examine each new termination recommendation with fresh eyes. Review performance evaluations, speak with other managers and, if possible, give the employee a chance to present her version of events.

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