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When terminating, you don’t have to be right as long as you’re reasonable

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Courts aren’t set up to serve as super-personnel departments. They generally will let the experts—that’s you—decide how to manage your work force. As long as you act in good faith and believe you are doing the right thing, the courts probably won’t second-guess you. As the following case shows, you can even be wrong about an underlying fact.

Recent case: Mildred Wicker, who is black, worked at a Huddle House restaurant. One day she arrived for her shift and found a big bag of garbage at the back door. She enlisted another employee, who is white, to help her move the garbage out. Because she had trouble getting the bag out the back, Wicker and the co-worker dragged it out through the front door.

The company fired Wicker because the local health code forbids taking garbage out through the front of a restaurant. Her co-worker was not fired, on the recommendation of a manager who is also black. The manager told HR that Wicker was a prior disciplinary problem, while the co-worker was not. HR then fired Wicker, who sued.

The court tossed out the case, reasoning that as long as the person who fired Wicker believed in good faith she had been a disciplinary problem, the court wouldn’t get involved. (Wicker v. W&S Enterprises dba Huddle House, No. 5:04-CV-296, MD GA, 2007)

Final note: The case might have turned out differently if Wicker could have shown that the manager who recommended her discharge and provided possibly incorrect information was motivated by race. It’s still best to investigate and get the facts right.

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