It’s natural for supervisors and managers to become upset when employees accuse them of some form of discrimination. Tell them they must resist the impulse to strike back. It inevitably makes the situation worse.
Many forms of managerial punishment may end up being construed as retaliation—which can be far easier to prove than the alleged discrimination that started all the trouble.
Recent case: Ramona Stenberg was older than age 60 when she had a heart attack and missed time from her job as a credit collector. When she returned to work, she began to suspect age and disability discrimination. Her supervisor made an offhand comment about how much her medical treatment had cost the company and asked her when she was going to retire.
Meanwhile, Stenberg got that grew increasingly critical, focusing on allegedly falling productivity. Stenberg complained that she was being singled out because of her heart attack and said that was disability discrimination.
Then two other younger collectors were hired. Shortly thereafter, the company decided it needed to trim its workforce and it terminated the two employees with the lowest collection rates: Stenberg and another collector, who was 71.
Stenberg sued, alleging age and disability discrimination, plus retaliation. She argued that the RIF was trumped up to get rid of older employees, plus those who voiced discrimination complaints.
The court dismissed her disability claim, concluding Stenberg wasn’t disabled since she had recovered from her heart attack.
However, the court said there was evidence of age discrimination and retaliation. It said her complaint about possible disability discrimination was protected activity and the discharge could therefore be retaliation for that complaint. A jury will now decide. (Stenberg v. I.C. System, No. 07-4064, DC MN, 2009)
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