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Firing after complaint won’t always prove bias

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When some employees sense they’re in trouble at work, they preemptively file discrimination complaints with the goal of preventing discipline.

Don’t let what you know is a meritless complaint keep you from disciplining an employee. If you can show the process was already under way and you had a solid business reason, go ahead and discipline the worker.

Recent case: Yi, who is Asian, applied for a secretarial job with a law firm. She was hired as a clerk instead, but the firm assured her that there was potential for advancement.

Apparently ambitious, Yi began directly offering to help lawyers. She was warned that this was inappropriate for a clerk to do.

After failing to get promoted while white employees moved up, Yi complained.

Shortly after, her computer access was cut off when she again tried to help a lawyer, something that still fell outside her job description.

She was fired shortly after and sued, alleging race discrimination. As evidence, she cited the fact that white employees earned promotions while she did not.

But the law firm argued that she had been fired for documented performance problems, including doing work outside her job description.

The court accepted that explanation, despite the fact that Yi was fired so soon after filing a complaint. The close timing simply wasn’t enough to support her lawsuit. (Groeber v. Friedman & Schuman, No. 13-2497, 3rd Cir., 2014)

Final note: This is a classic case of an ambitious employee trying to do work beyond her classification to prove her merit and then becoming disappointed when her effort isn’t appreciated. To avoid problems, consider setting up training programs for promotions so that those who want to get ahead have a clear path for doing so.

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