Employees who lose their jobs have very little to lose by making an appointment with an employment lawyer.
The attorney will take a close look at everything about the former employee’s situation—including age, race, sex, disability, religion and other protected characteristics. The next step: See if others outside those protected categories were treated more favorably.
In many cases, there’s great potential for a discrimination claim. For example, were younger employees retained? Or more male employees? How about black employees? Or white ones? The list goes on and on.
To prepare for possible surprises, you should do what a good employment attorney does—look for hidden discrimination in your workplace.
That way, before the discharged employee sues, you can be ready with a good, solid reason why she lost her job while others who don’t belong to her protected class kept theirs. Then document the reason.
Be proactive about this. The court will be suspicious if you come up with the “legitimate” reason after you are sued.
Recent case: Latefah Shampine, a female Muslim over age 40, was not rehired as a teacher with the East Cleveland Board of Education. She sued, claiming discrimination based on her age and her religion.
But the school district was prepared. It could show that three of the seven teachers it did rehire were older than 40. Plus, all seven actually held permanent teaching licenses, while Shampine merely had a substitute license that had expired.
The court also found no evidence that anyone of any religion other than Shampine’s was treated differently.
Simply put, the school district had legitimate reasons for selecting others to fill a limited number of positions. (Shampine v. East Cleveland Board of Education, No. 1:07-CV-3886, ND OH, 2009)
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