Legitimate business reasons for decision? Feel free to fire employee who has complained

Here’s a situation that many HR professionals dread: An employee complains about discrimination and you fix the problem. Then there are workplace changes and it looks as if the employee will lose her job.

Should you worry about retaliation? Not so much that you start treating the employee with kid gloves.

Instead, just make sure that you have legitimate and well-documented reasons for the move, such as business necessity.

Recent case: Lori Smith managed oncology services at Naples Com­mu­­nity Hospital. Most of her duties involved running practice groups for the hospital’s oncology and radiology physicians.

Smith complained that her immediate supervisor created a hostile work environment by yelling at her, ignoring her and behaving in a generally rude manner.

Shortly afterward, the hospital sold both medical groups, which meant Smith’s duties were no longer necessary. With nothing to do at the hospital, she lost her job.

Smith sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about harassment.

But the court rejected her case, reason­ing that the hospital had a legitimate business reason for her termination. It no longer needed her services since it sold the practices she had been supervising. She couldn’t counter the well-documented facts that clearly showed her duties disappeared with the sale. (Smith v. Naples Community Hospital, No. 10-12460, 11th Cir., 2011)

Final note: The court also dismissed sexual harassment claims Smith had filed. While her super­visor’s conduct was unprofessional, it wasn’t severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.