Firing harasser is necessary, even if long-ago age comment could spark lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Hiring,Human Resources

Terminations aren’t always clean. Sometimes they’re damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situations.

That’s often so when you conclude that an employee harassed another and must be terminated. With nothing to lose, the fired employee may try to concoct a discrimination lawsuit.

All you can do is stick to your guns and trust that the court will throw the case out. Firing a harasser is always wise, because allowing him to keep working could put you in a more perilous legal position.

Recent case: Wayne Jackson, 69, was fired after his employer concluded he’d sexually harassed other employees and an outside vendor. Jackson then sued for age discrimination, saying a manager had once referred to him as an “old gray-haired fart.”

Fortunately for his former employer, it was easy for the company to show it had fired Jackson based on a good-faith belief that he was a sexual harasser. First, the company immediately investigated the harassment complaint by interviewing other employees. Those interviews revealed other accusations, including that he’d attempted to touch female employees and discussed sexual acts. Plus, the company found a dozen sexually inappropriate e-mails that Jackson had sent.

During the investigation, Jackson claimed he had been falsely accused. The company then hired an attorney to conduct an independent investigation. The result was the same.

The court said it was clear the company had a valid reason to fire Jackson. It said the age comment was too remote and too isolated to create an inference of age bias. (Jackson v. Cal Western Packaging, No. H-08-862, SD TX, 2009)

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