Sometimes, managers and supervisors don’t act as calmly as HR professionals would like when faced with having to discipline or fire a worker.
A messy termination doesn’t have to mean losing a subsequent lawsuit, however. Just be proactive, figure out what happened and document the underlying discharge reasons. They’re probably in plain sight, despite the drama.
Recent case: Marilyn, who is black, worked as a tennis pro at an indoor tennis club. Like other tennis pros at the club, she was allowed to teach summer tennis lessons at other outdoor clubs during the indoor club’s slow summer months. However, this required prior permission.
When a supervisor found out Marilyn hadn’t sought prior approval, he prepared a performance improvement plan. Meanwhile, Marilyn, who knew she faced discipline, appealed to some of the tennis players she had taught at the indoor club about her work problems. Three of them called the club to express support for Marilyn.
When her supervisor found out Marilyn had spoken to customers about internal HR matters and apparently enlisted their help, he scrapped plans for an improvement plan and instead fired her.
Marilyn sued, alleging race discrimination. She cited the on-then-off performance improvement plan as evidence the club was using discipline as an excuse to fire her because of her race.
She could not counter her former employer’s stated legitimate discharge reasons: failing to follow the rules on outside employment and involving customers in internal HR matters. Her case was dismissed. (Baker v. Life Time Fitness, No. 12-CV-2444, DC MN, 2014)
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