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New boss raises the bar? Give worker a chance to improve, discipline if she doesn’t

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some supervisors are more forgiving than others. Many times, that means a marginal employee may never improve until a new supervisor arrives and insists on better performance.

If that happens and the employee struggles to rise to the occasion, be careful before you terminate her or take any other action. Let the new supervisor set higher expectations and give the employee a chance to improve.

If she doesn’t, past positive performance appraisals won’t carry much weight in court.

Recent case: Ranna came to the U.S. in 1980 from Cambodia. A few years later, she began working for U.S. Bank, first part time and later full time.

She eventually worked her way up to international banking, where she handled letters of credit.

Her first supervisor at that level consistently gave her solid, middle-of-the-road performance evaluations, with notations of what she could do to improve. Then a new super­­visor arrived on the scene—one who apparently expected more of subordinates.

Over the next year, Ranna’s evaluations fell and she protested. She also complained for the first time that she thought she was being discriminated against because she was Cambodian.

After a final evaluation, Ranna went out on disability leave. She never returned and instead sued for discrimination. She didn’t get far.

The court concluded that her new supervisor’s higher expectations weren’t based on discrimination and that Ranna’s earlier and better evaluations didn’t prove anything. (Muor v. U.S. Bank, No. 10-3786, DC MN, 2012)

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