Sometimes, employees who are used to receiving only goodcan’t believe it when they’re fired. They can only imagine that discrimination or retaliation is to blame for their sudden unemployment. Then they sue.
If you had a good reason to terminate such an employee, don’t worry. The circumstances immediately preceding the discharge decision are what matter.
Recent case: Mattu, an assisted living supervisor, was the only black African immigrant in her workplace. Mattu received positivefor several years.
Then, the work atmosphere began to change for the worse, and the director started criticizing employees, including Mattu, for their poor attitudes. Mattu was terminated, allegedly for her “failure to work in a cooperative manner.”
She sued, alleging discrimination against her as an African immigrant.
As evidence, Mattu pointed to an entry she once found in the computer calendar system, which referenced a doctor’s appointment she had scheduled as a “Negro appointment.” She did not know who made the entry, but she had complained at the time she discovered it.
Mattu also pointed to her past good performance reviews as proof that her performance could not have been the true reason for her termination.
The court said the computer comment, a stray remark, wasn’t enough to overcome the employer’s stated termination reason—being uncooperative. In addition, Mattu’s past reviews did not prove the stated termination reason was false. (Songa v. Sunrise Senior Living, No. 13-2254, DC MN, 2014)
Final note: After termination, employees (and their lawyers) look backward to find any reason to sue.
Fortunately, stray but offensive comments—on their own—will rarely support a full-fledged lawsuit. In addition, past performance is not necessarily indicative of performance at the time of termination.