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Virginia Schurmeier, an operations analyst for a food wholesale company, was fired for alleged poor performance. She sued, claiming the real reason was sex discrimination.

Her proof: A male co-worker who had worse performance appraisals than she had—plus he had been written up for the same mistakes by the same supervisor that wrote up Schurmeier—wasn’t fired. She told the court that male bosses generally ignored women while catering to men by sharing cigars and scotch. That was enough for the court to order a jury trial. (Schurmeier v. Nash Finch Company, No. 06-3860, DC MN, 2007)

Advice: Nothing will send a discrimination case to trial faster than obvious unequal treatment. Have someone in HR do a complete review before the company terminates an employee for poor performance. If you spot possible unequal treatment, consult an attorney before following through on the discharge.

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