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Avoid discrimination trap: Don’t make promises you can’t keep

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in Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Maternity Leave Laws

To avoid losing essential and talented employees, some organizations make promises about continued employment that later turn out to be hard to keep. It’s especially common in organizations going through transitions, such as mergers or moves to outsource internal functions.

But the tactic can backfire. If an employee relies on a promise that she’ll have a certain job, pay or benefits following a transition and the employer reneges, expect a lawsuit to follow. And don’t be surprised if the charges are for discrimination.

Recent case: Lisa Lulaj worked for Chrysler as a fire security officer. In 2004, Chrysler outsourced its fire protection function to Wackenhut Corp., a move that made Lulaj a Wackenhut employee.

There, her job involved training new personnel, but the position lacked health insurance and tuition reimbursement benefits Lulaj had enjoyed while employed by Chrysler.

Lulaj claimed she agreed to take the position because Wackenhut supervisors promised her she would be promoted to a job with comparable benefits when the outsourcing transition was complete. In fact, she passed up chances to apply for other management spots while she completed her temporary training work.

Then Lulaj got pregnant and let her supervisors know. Suddenly, the promised position vanished, and she was offered a different one without the benefits she wanted. A supervisor urged her to accept the new spot “considering your position.”

Her calls asking about the broken promotion promise were ignored. She gave birth and sued.

A jury sided with her and awarded her damages. On appeal, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said she had proven pregnancy discrimination, reasoning that the jury was entitled to make a connection between her pregnancy and the broken promotion promise. (Lulaj v. Wackenhut, No. 06-2163, 6th Cir., 2008)

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