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Warning: Even legit firing can lead to lawsuit

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in Firing,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

You’d think terminating someone for obviously gross misconduct and behavior that was simply unacceptable would be a slam-dunk. No chance such an employee could bring a lawsuit, right?

Wrong. There’s always the potential for a discrimination suit, especially if co-workers who don’t belong to the fired employee’s protected class committed similar offenses and weren’t fired.

Recent case: Saidrick Jackson, who is black, received an unsatisfactory performance evaluation from his supervisor. Then a security officer observed Jackson puncture a tire on the supervisor’s car. Surveillance video confirmed the vandalism. Authorities arrested Jackson, although the charge was ultimately dropped. Jackson’s employer fired him anyway.

He sued, alleging that employees who aren’t black hadn’t been fired for the same behavior or worse. In fact, he said other employees had been convicted of felonies and kept their jobs. He lost his, even though the criminal charge had been dropped.

One problem for Jackson: He couldn’t cite any specific examples of this alleged double standard. The court dismissed his case. (Jackson v. Dallas County Juvenile Dept., No. 07-10818, 5th Cir., 2008)

Final note: Track all discipline and document any differences in how you punish wrongdoing, including criminal behavior. Clearly outline those differences in your records, even if you don’t usually provide employees with the explanation. The point is that you may have to go back to justify differing punishments much later—when memories may have failed and supervisors may have retired or moved on. Let your records speak for themselves.

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