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Boss put foot in mouth? Consider settling—and protecting against future suits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

Surprise! Supervisors sometimes say dumb things. It may be entirely innocent—they simply don’t realize the impact their words may have. If that’s the case, and someone complains, it may be best to settle the case and move on.

Recent case:
Bonnie Kennedy worked for the U.S. Postal Service and wanted to transfer back to North Carolina from New York as she neared retirement. She claimed that while applying for an open spot in North Carolina, her prospective boss “had no need for someone nearing retirement age … and that my age and seniority made me a short-timer.”

Of course, that was exactly what she was. But speaking those words meant the boss was articulating possible age bias. Kennedy complained and threatened an Age Discrimination in Employment Act lawsuit.

That’s when everyone agreed a settlement was in everyone’s best interest. The Postal Service agreed to transfer her and she accepted.

Later, when she lost the job over alleged performance issues, she tried to revive her earlier age-discrimination lawsuit. The court refused, reasoning that agreeing to the terms of the settlement had effectively killed her underlying claim. (Kennedy v. Potter, No. 3:06-CV-447, WD NC, 2008)

Final note: Obviously, someone in HR would also want to caution the boss in this case on the choice of words. While he may have meant no age discrimination, the words carried that implication.

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