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Mind your P’s and P’s: Patience and proof are best defense against lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some managers are reluctant to discipline minority employees or others in "protected" classes. That's not smart, and it can come back to haunt you if you don't discipline all employees evenly.

The two keys to legal discipline are patience and proof. Don't jump the gun by disciplining workers based on hunches or rumors; acquire the necessary proof first. And, of course, document, document, document all your findings.

Recent case: The IRS being patient and fair...doesn't sound right does it? But that's how the tax agency won an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by one if its clerks. Here's what happened:

The IRS noticed that a clerk's work assignments were inappropriately placed in the garbage can. After discovering it, IRS officials created a system to track all clerks' work and installed video surveillance. The investigation showed that three African-American clerks were dumping their work in the trash. All three were fired.

One of the clerks filed a racial bias lawsuit, but the court tossed out the case before it went to trial.

Reason: The court commended the IRS for its thorough, nondiscriminatory investigation. (Butler v. Internal Revenue Service, No. 02-51156, 5th Cir., 2003)

Bottom line: Racial minorities aren't "bulletproof" from discipline. If you can prove that a minority employee's conduct warranted discipline or discharge, drop the hammer just as you would for any other employee.

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