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Open inquiry protects against firing bias

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in Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Coca-Cola fired Dudley Thompson, who is black and from Jamaica, for not following company protocol when he went on vacation to the island—he failed to put his vacation request in writing and arrange for shift coverage. Then he stayed away so long that one of his co-workers ended up working 40 days straight, in part to cover Thompson’s shifts.

A supervisor referred the matter to HR while Thompson was still in Jamaica. HR spoke with everyone involved. When he returned, Thompson was called into a meeting to discuss why he hadn’t followed company vacation procedures. When he could offer no good explanation, Coca-Cola fired him.

Thompson sued, claiming his supervisor was a racist who had once said “I hate … Jamaicans.”

But the court looked at the company’s termination process and concluded it had treated Thompson fairly without any bias. (Thompson v. Coca-Cola, No. 07-2107, 1st Cir., 2008)

Lesson learned: Coke handled this case just right. HR independently investigated Thompson’s infraction, gave him a chance to explain and then made a good-faith decision to fire him. Those actions effectively insulated the employer from the supervisor’s alleged biased comment about Jamaicans. 

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