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Supervisor deserves termination? Fire away–even if he’s a member of a protected class

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Hey, it happens: Sometimes, supervisors screw up. Go ahead and discipline them for their mistakes, even if you’re afraid your actions might trigger a discrimination or harassment lawsuit.

Recent case: Robert, a supervisor at a retirement community, had a spotty employment record. He sometimes didn’t listen to directions, ignored aspects of his work and behaved poorly.

For example, another employee once complained that Robert took her pen, put it in his pants pocket and asked her to retrieve it, telling her, “Feel how hard it is.” When confronted, Robert complained that the woman had harassed him. Neither claim resulted in disciplinary action against either employee.

Robert’s neglect piled up. He forgot to tell HR about a subordinate’s FMLA request. He brought his son to work and allowed him to be disruptive. He mishandled an employee’s need for sick leave. He was finally fired.

Robert fired back with a retaliation lawsuit. He tacked on a hostile work environment claim, stating that another supervisor had made disparaging comments about Mexicans. (Robert has a Hispanic last name.)

The court threw out his case. It reasoned that the retirement community had good reason to fire Robert, given his poor work record. The court didn’t think an isolated comment that might be tinged with prejudice was enough to create a hostile work environment, especially when it hadn’t been directed at Robert. (Gutierrez v. The Meadows of Napa Valley, No. A132705, Court of Appeal of California, 2012)

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