Employers that always have a clear and solid business reason for discharging employees seldom lose discrimination cases. That’s because even if a protected class member is affected, it’s very hard to counter the employer’s claim it terminated the employee for legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons.
Recent case: Donna, who was over age 60, worked as an airport screener for a company that had a contract with the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to provide security screening. She was quickly promoted to a supervisory position. That job classification wasn’t required in the TSA contract.
TSA modified the contract and cut its payments. Donna’s employer then had to cut its labor costs and terminated eight workers in Donna’s classification. At the time, Donna was on sick leave after surgery. Only one terminated employee was both under age 40 and not disabled. Donna sued, alleging age and disability discrimination.
But the fact that so many terminated employees were older or disabled wasn’t enough to win the lawsuit in light of the company’s solid business reason—cost cutting—for eliminating the positions. Donna’s case was dismissed. (Chan v. Covenant Aviation Security, No. 13-0066, ND CA, 2014)
Final note: What’s a good business reason? Generally, cutting costs or streamlining operations count. Just make sure supervisors understand that when asked to select positions or employees for termination, they understand that they must not take disability, age, sex or any other protected classification into consideration. Keep the focus on performance and profitability.
- Evenly enforce zero-Tolerance rule against threats
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- Document promotion rationale to derail claims from runners-Up
- Feel free to set different pay rates, but prepare to document business reasons why