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Performance appraisals help in court as well as on the job

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Performance appraisals are valuable tools to help put struggling employees back on track. But a low rating also can spur poor performers to consider legal action: Many discrimination suits have been launched on the wings of a poor performance appraisal.

Fortunately, employers with solid appraisal systems usually have built-in defenses against such charges. The ability to show a court the complete files on all performance-appraisal discussions and documents makes it easy to prove you rate your employees fairly.

If an employee’s disgruntlement about a review prompts a discrimination complaint followed by a retaliation complaint, you will have the documentation you need to show you weren’t retaliating. Instead, the record should show the evaluations were consistent with the overall declining performance.

Recent case: State employee Jerry Brown, who is black, received a string of bad reviews over the years.

When Brown filed an EEOC complaint, most of his claims eventually were dismissed because he missed the filing deadline. But several race-related claims remained, including his assertion that subsequent performance appraisals were tainted by retaliation for his EEOC complaint.

The court dismissed his lawsuit after the state produced Brown’s performance-appraisal records. The court reasoned that, although Brown’s reviews continued to slide after he filed the EEOC claim, they were consistent with his prior performance evaluations. In other words, this wasn’t a case where prior reviews were average or stellar and later reviews were negative. Instead, it was a case in which a poorly performing employee’s performance continued to decline. (Brown v. Illinois Department of Natural Resources, No. 06-1552, 7th Cir., 2007)

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