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When an employee sues over an alleged discriminatory firing, courts typically make a beeline for one piece of evidence: the employee’s performance evaluation.

A sterling evaluation will quickly cast doubt on your real motive if you claim the firing was for poor performance.

The problem: Supervisors are notorious for giving overly kind evaluations, even to poor performers. That’s why it’s wise to get another opinion: the employee’s own.

Require all employees, as part of the review process, to identify their strengths and weaknesses on paper. Ask employees to come up with suggestions for correcting their deficiencies or achieving higher performance.

If an employee is eventually terminated, you have her acknowledgment of her weaknesses. In court, that’s far more powerful than the boss’s assessment.

Recent case:
A community college hired Tamara Muhic to manage its maintenance department. By the time her first evaluation came along, she’d made progress in bringing more efficiency to the department.

But the progress came at a cost.

According to her self-assessment, she’d “been aggressive and hadn’t always effectively managed the impact on others.” Her supervisor suggested she work on her people skills.

Things did not improve. Subordinates complained. Muhic got into spats with co-workers. Finally, the college fired her.

She sued for sex discrimination because a man replaced her. But the college was able to point to Muhic’s self-assessment as evidence that poor management skills were the true reasons for the firing. The court sided with the college, saying Muhic failed to show any other reason than the flaw she herself had identified. (Muhic v. Pueblo Community College, No. 06-CV-02390, DC CO, 2008)

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