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Promises, promises: Well-intentioned words may send fired employee in search of an attorney

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Here’s a valuable tip when discharging an employee: Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

It can lead to years of needless ­litigation and cost thousands of dollars in legal fees even if you win in the end.

Recent case: When Karimah’s employment with a North Carolina hotel came to an end, there was a dispute over whether she quit and her employer accepted her resignation or whether she was fired.

At one point during the meeting at which she lost her job, a company representative allegedly offered Karimah a promise not to give her a negative reference. Presumably, that would help her in her search for new employment.

Karimah sued, alleging that the promise was breached—and also that she had been terminated because she is black.

That claim got her into federal court. Two years of litigation en­­sued. Her former employer stuck with its claim that Karimah quit, while she insisted she was the victim of discrimination.

Karimah lost the discrimination claim when she couldn’t show she had been performing up to her em­­ployer’s reasonable expectations or that she was replaced by someone outside her protected class.

However, while the federal court dismissed the federal claims, it told Karimah she could refile her broken-promise claim in state court. The case will likely continue there. (Abdus-Salaal v. Bill Maddalon Unique Southern Estates, et al., No. 3:11-CV-410, WD NC, 2012)

Final note: Always consult your attorney before firing someone.

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