When misbehavior demands termination, it’s best to stick with one reason for firing

Here’s an important reminder to heed when you must discipline employees: If an employee commits a major rule violation that justifies termination, rely on that reason alone. Resist the temptation to pile on additional reasons. It may make defending a lawsuit that much easier.

Recent case: Melvin Reed, who is black, was fired from his job as a car salesman after he got into a heated argument with another employee. The incident began when Reed arrived late after a snowstorm, when cars needed to be shoveled out before the showroom opened. Reed had to be restrained from hitting the co-worker.

Because he had been warned about threats or violence, Reed was immediately fired. The company has a zero-tolerance anti-violence policy.

Reed sued, alleging he had been fired because of his race. As evidence, he argued that white employees with poor attendance records were not discharged and that he had fewer ­absences.

But the court said that was irrelevant, since the company didn’t fire Reed for coming in late that morning. Instead, he was fired for breaking the no-violence rule. It tossed out his case. (Reed v. Ewald Automotive Group, No. 10-3186, 7th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Some rules should specify immediate termination, regardless of the employee’s previous disciplinary history. That’s appropriate in cases of blatant harassment, racial intimidation and any violence against co-workers. Good work, a clean disciplinary history, great attendance and other positive factors don’t outweigh such misbehavior.