Boss recommends firing minority worker? Check the record for hidden supervisor bias

Some supervisors may be secretly biased against members of a particular protected class—something that may be hard to tell until it’s too late. And if a bigoted boss decides to get rid of a subordinate by telling HR the employee is a poor per­­former, rubber-stamping that decision can mean losing a discrimination lawsuit.

Advice: Always review recent em­­ployee complaints about a supervisor before acting on his or her termination recommendations.

Recent case: Philip Lawrence, who is black, was fired from his job at Turner’s Outdoorsman for alleged poor performance, based solely on his supervisor’s recommendation.

Lawrence sued, alleging that his former boss was a racist who made frequent comments about the few black employees under his super­vision.

He denied being a poor worker and explained to the court that he had gone to HR earlier to complain about racial harassment.

At the time he spoke with HR, he asked them not to tell his supervisor and not do anything for fear his boss would punish him.

The court said his case should go to trial. (Lawrence v. Turner’s Outdoorsman, No. 10-55710, 9th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Clearly, the employer’s HR department was on notice that something was amiss. While it was fine to honor Lawrence’s request not to investigate, once the supervisor urged termination, HR should have thought twice before accepting that recommendation. The head-in-the-sand strategy was a bad idea, since HR had already heard some of the details from Lawrence.