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Firing reason doesn’t have to be perfect to withstand discrimination claims

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

As a conscientious HR pro, you no doubt try to make the best employment decisions you can, based on legitimate reasons and valid evidence. But that doesn’t mean you have to treat the HR office like a court of law, spending weeks conducting investigations and sorting through evidence. That’s true even in some cases when discrimination charges are leveled.

Bottom line: Courts generally won’t second-guess employment decisions if you can prove you acted on the best available evidence. To prove discrimination, employees must show: (1) that the employer’s stated reason for firing or failing to hire was in fact false and (2) that discrimination was the real reason. That’s very difficult to do.

Recent case: When Michael West, who is black, was fired from his Salvation Army job for allegedly falsifying or lying on his employment application, he sued for discrimination. At the heart of the case was a question on the application about prior criminal convictions. West claimed he revealed only one of his four criminal convictions because the application merely asked whether he had a criminal conviction, not how many. To show that he didn’t intend to lie, he introduced another application he had filled out for a job at Little Caesars Pizza. That employer asked applicants to list all felony convictions, which West did. West said if the Salvation Army application had been that explicit, he would have listed all four.

The court tossed out his claim. It reasoned that even if it were in fact true that West hadn’t lied, he still failed to tie the Salvation Army’s allegedly false reason to discrimination. That he couldn’t do. (West v. Salvation Army, No. 07-10269, ED MI, 2008) 

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