Unfortunately, lawsuits often come down to one person’s word against another’s. That’s powerful incentive for a company rule requiring at least two managers to participate in a termination meeting. That way, the fired employee can’t make exaggerated claims about what was said.
Also, decide ahead of time the exact rationale for the discharge and then stick with that reason. Giving contradictory explanations later makes it far easier for a court to decide that the real reason for the firing was some sort of discrimination.
Recent case: James Woolsey was a national sales manager for a manufacturing firm in Texas. When his subordinates complained about his behavior, the company warned Woolsey to follow the rules more carefully.
Woolsey’s conduct apparently didn’t improve. The company president called him into a private meeting and gave him a letter informing him he was terminated.
Woolsey sued for age discrimination, alleging that during his termination meeting, the company president said Woolsey was no “spring chicken.”
The president denied making the comment. Later, in court filings, the company offered additional reasons for the termination.
The court said the case should go to trial. The comment during the termination meeting, if true, was evidence of age discrimination. So were the shifting reasons. (Woolsey v. Klingspor Abrasives, No. 4:09-CV-549, ND TX, 2010)
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