Some employees come to work with a chip on their shoulders. They may believe their co-workers and supervisors are out to get them because of race, sex or some other protected characteristic. Then they—consciously or subconsciously—look for evidence to support those beliefs. They catalog every slight for future reference—maybe in a lawsuit.
Your best defense against such litigation is a well-established system that includes escalating penalties for employee infractions and clear explanations of why the offense broke the rules. Then, if you terminate the employee, you will have a solid record to fall back on.
Recent case: Regina Russell, who is black, worked for the University of Toledo as a nurse for 13 years. Then the university fired her for “gross insubordination and neglect of duty.”
She sued, alleging race discrimination, and tried to show that since she was hired, her co-workers resented her because of her race. She also said co-workers left trash on her desk while she was on vacation.
The university showed that it had progressively disciplined Russell over the years for insubordination and other work problems. It said it finally fired her when she refused to remove sutures from a patient and gave another patient an injection into a muscle instead of his IV line, as a doctor had ordered.
The court tossed out Russell’s case. It said that the prior co-worker problems were minor and might even be explained by Russell’s difficult personality, not her race. Since she couldn’t show that anyone making similar mistakes had been treated more favorably, she lost. (Russell v. University of Toledo, et al., No. 07-3998, 6th Cir., 2008)
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