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Offer alternatives to layoffs—but don’t expect your good deed to go unpunished

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Courts understand that today’s economic climate is difficult. They aren’t likely to assume a company is restructuring or downsizing solely to “get” some employees.

That’s especially true for employees lucky enough to be offered an alternate position—and then turn it down in order to sue.

Recent case: Marianne Stoddard worked for Eastman Kodak as a manager for 20 years. When digital chips began obsolescing film, the company made substantial changes to its workforce. Stoddard was part of one such change when her unit shrank from more than  600 employees to 10.

Stoddard was one of the lucky 10 to whom Kodak offered a comparable position with no reduction in pay or benefits. She, alone, turned it down. Instead, she sued for sex discrimination.

That didn’t fly in court. Stoddard didn’t have one shred of evidence to suggest Kodak restructured an entire division to discriminate against her. Nor could she explain why the company that allegedly targeted her because of her sex and then offered her a job when so many others were shown the door. (Stoddard v. Eastman Kodak Company, No. 07-1783, 2nd Cir., 2009)

Final note: Eastman Kodak did everything right. It had a solid business reason for the downsizing and carried it out in a logical, well-thought-out way. It retained those employees it considered most valuable to its new mission. It goes to show, though, that sometimes no good deed goes unpunished.

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