You don’t have to tolerate foul language
In a heated conflict at work, a JPMorgan Chase employee told a co-worker that he could “f**k off.” She was fired. She sued, citing harassment. The bank said the firing was for coarse language. The court sided with the company, saying the employee couldn’t point to any other worker who used foul language like she did and not lost his or her job. (Gossard v. JPMorgan Chase, SD FL)
The lesson: Cursing can be a firing offense, we swear. Just make sure you hand out discipline consistently.
Customer gripe caused firing? Get it in writing
A woman’s shelter fired a worker based on customers’ complaints. The employee sued, claiming age discrimination. But the employer won in court because it was able to show that it relied on objective reasons—the complaints—for the termination. (Kremer v.A Woman’s Place, 3rd Cir.)
The lesson: This is another reason to get complaints about employees in writing. That way, you’ll have evidence to prove you fired the employee for solid reasons.
Ledbetter Act already spurring more pay cases
Several female corrections officers sued, claiming Equal Pay Act violations. They argued their paychecks are smaller today because of a decision made 16 years ago to reclassify them from nurses to corrections officers. The court would have tossed out the case due to the statute of limitations. But since President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, employees can file pay-bias suits reflecting decisions made decades ago. (Bush v. Orange County Corrections Department, MD FL)
The lesson: The Ledbetter Act has opened the litigation floodgates. Already, courts are reinstating lawsuits they would have easily dismissed just months ago. For details on the law, go to www.theHRSpecialist.com/Ledbetter.
Track when you notify worker of firing
A Michigan restaurant supervisor sued after being fired, claiming she suffered age discrimination. She didn’t file her EEOC complaint for 500 days. She claimed she hadn’t figured her termination might have been age-related until then. The court said that didn’t matter. The clock started when the employer said it told her she was terminated. (Klefas v. Tim Hortons USA, ED MI)
The lesson: Employees have to meet tight deadlines for most discrimination claims. So be ready to prove exactly when they notified employees about a pending termination. That way, you can easily get a case dismissed if the employee waited too long to file.
No signature? Settlement may still be binding
An employee and her former employer orally agreed to the terms of an age-discrimination lawsuit settlement. Both parties then refused to sign off, and sued. But the court held them to their oral agreement. (McDonnell v. Engine Distribution, 3rd Cir.)
The lesson: An oral agreement may be a contract as long as the parties clearly agreed to the essential terms. In other words, you cannot change your mind and refuse to sign the final agreement if the terms were already agreed to.
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