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Make firing decisions locally so possible lawsuit can’t morph into something larger

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in Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Here’s added incentive to handle terminations and other employment actions at the local level.

When employees sue, their attorneys often look to expand the lawsuit beyond one person. They’re trying to find larger patterns of discrimination. This strategy can sometimes succeed if higher-ups in the company made the decision and based it on a common policy or framework.

On the other hand, courts will resist efforts to get information from other divisions, plants and locations—if the employer can show that local supervisors and HR personnel made the decision.

Recent case: John Semple worked for FedEx as a driver. FedEx’s employee handbook clearly stated that all employees work on an at-will basis, with no guarantees of continued employment. The handbook also provided that employees could have their terminations reviewed by local management.

FedEx fired Semple after he complained about harassment, ostensibly because he had scanned an item as delivered before he actually got to the delivery location. He appealed to local management, which upheld his dismissal for falsifying delivery records.

Semple sued, and his attorneys asked the court for access to companywide discharge records, apparently looking for a discriminatory pattern.

The court refused, concluding that, since the decision had been made locally without national corporate input, what others companywide had done in similar cases was irrelevant.

Had the decision been made at the national level, the court might have entertained expanding the litigation. (Semple v. Federal Express, No. 08-2165, 8th Cir., 2009)

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