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Long ago comment won’t taint current legitimate disciplinary action

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in Discrimination and Harassment

Here’s some good news for em­ployers that promote an employee into a supervisory position not knowing she may have made racist comments in the past. As long as the new supervisor follows company disciplinary rules and HR carefully documents any performance and disciplinary problems, chances are the old comments won’t sink the em­­­ploy­­er’s defense of a discrimination claim.

Recent case: Ranna was born in Cambodia and worked for many years for a large banking corporation until she quit over what she alleged were discriminatory evaluations. Ranna claimed that several years before, a woman who eventually became her supervisor made racist comments. Ranna said the woman told her she couldn’t speak English and should go back to Cambodia. She also allegedly said Ranna and another Asian employee had “slanty eyes.”

When the woman became Ranna’s supervisor, she told Ranna she needed to improve in several areas. Her criticism was supported by several examples. This was not the first time Ranna’s performance had been questioned.

Ranna quit and sued, alleging that the earlier derogatory comments meant her new supervisor held racist beliefs and had targeted Ranna for criticism because of her national origin and race.

The court disagreed. It pointed out that others had also criticized Ranna’s performance and that the deficiencies were well-documented. Plus, the comments were made several years earlier, before the supervisor was promoted. The case was dismissed. (Muor v. U.S. Bank, No. 12-2757, 8th Cir., 2013)

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