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Past reviews don’t prove today’s performance

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a common sense decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court has concluded that just because an employee who has been demoted received good reviews in the past doesn’t mean that she is still meeting her employer’s legitimate expectations. That’s especially true if the job changed and became more challenging.

Recent case: Vishakha is over age 40 and was born in India. She worked as a scientist at Roche Diag­nostics, evaluating materials used to make diabetes test strips that measure glucose levels. Her performance evaluations were satisfactory, showing just a few areas in need of improvement.

Then the Food and Drug Admin­is­tration (FDA) wrote a warning letter noting problems in the Roche labs. Management decided to revamp its systems, requiring scientists to understand more technical information, create spreadsheets and write lab protocols. Those who didn’t have the necessary skills were demoted to technicians and had their pay cut. Vishakha was one of them.

She sued, alleging race and age discrimination after the company hired several much younger scientists to fill the jobs she and the other demoted workers had held.

The company argued that she hadn’t been meeting its legitimate expectations when she was demoted. She pointed to past performance evaluations as proof that she was.

That wasn’t good enough. The court said Vishakha had to prove she was meeting the new expectations, which were reasonable in the wake of the FDA warning letter. The case was dismissed. (Banthia v. Roche Diagnostics, No. 11-3290, 7th Cir., 2012)

Final note: Be sure you can justify any job changes by citing solid business reasons. In this case, the changes were necessary after a federal agency issued a warning letter. Vishakha couldn’t attack that as a mere ploy to de­­mote her and other older scientists or those from other countries.

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