When discipline is called for, keep personal hostility from tainting process

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a reminder for supervisors who participate in disciplinary decisions: Tell them to keep their personal feelings about the employee to themselves and resist the urge to bring in stereotypes. No one, for example, should comment on the employee’s nationality, national origin or other protected characteristics.

Recent case: Michael was dismissed from his medical residency after he missed work and was found to have falsified emails and texts covering up his absence. At the meeting to discuss what discipline was appropriate, one of the managers said Michael had a “brusque, German manner,” which could be perceived as aggression, and that this may have led to Michael’s “failings and conflicts.”

Michael sued, alleging discrimination based on his Germanic heritage. He pointed to the comment as proof.

Fortunately for his employer, Michael couldn’t prove that the “German manner” comment—or any past comments—had affected the decision to terminate him. However, the comment still proved expensive, since the employer had to defend itself against a claim that never would have emerged but for some poorly chosen words. (Roggenbach v. Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, No. 13 Civ. 221, SD NY, 2014)

Final note: When considering what issues to consider when disciplining employees, exclude as many “soft,” subjective problems as possible; concentrate on concrete, objective ones.

That’s what the employer ultimately did in this case. It fired Michael not for his “brusque” manner, but for lying about his absences.

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