Employers that are prepared to offer cold, hard facts to defend their decisions—even those that may look suspicious at first glance—rarely lose lawsuits. The more objective the business reasons you have for personnel decisions, the better off you are.
Recent case: Keith Turner, who is white, had worked for the NYU Hospitals Center for just a few years and was the highest-paid employee in his classification. When managers had to cut budgets by 2% across the board, Turner found himself out of a job. Another employee then moved into his position.
It just so happened that the manager who recommended the moves is black and from St. Lucia, as was the employee who stepped into Turner’s job.
Turner sued, alleging he had been discriminated against because he is white.
The hospital still won the lawsuit. It persuaded the court that the economic reasons for terminating Turner were legitimate. It pointed out that by terminating Turner (and his high salary), it saved money. The man who replaced him earned $13,000 less than Turner.
In addition, the hospital pointed to Turner’s performance. He had consistently earned poor reviews, although he never performed so poorly that he faced discharge. But poor reviews coupled with being the highest-paid employee in his classification certainly made the decision seem like one that was rational and nondiscriminatory. (Turner v. NYU Hospitals Center, et al., No. 11-1262, 2nd Cir., 2012)
Final note: Courts have become far more sensitive to budget constraints as a legitimate reason for job cuts. Perhaps it’s the economy. Smart employers take advantage of this and make sure they can justify moves based on money saved.