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Focus on poor performance when terminating

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

Sometimes, it’s obvious that an employee will not work out. If that employee belongs to a protected class, you may be tempted to treat her with kid gloves. Don’t.

Instead, keep the focus on performance deficiencies. As long as you would treat any other employee who had similar performance problems the same, don’t worry about the risk of a discrimination case.

Recent case: Veronica, who was born in India, worked for the Chi­­cago Board of Education as a teacher. Her certification allowed her to teach classes from kindergarten through eighth grade. Veronica preferred teaching third grade.

The principal at the school where Veronica taught didn’t think much of her ability to maintain discipline and sent several emails to HR expressing her desire to fire Veronica. Then the principal assigned her to the seventh-grade classroom.

An assistant principal made several classroom observations following re­­ports that the room was in chaos and that security had to be called many times to handle unruly students. The observations didn’t go well. Students were throwing wads of paper, wandering around the classroom and essentially ignoring Veronica.

When her contract wasn’t re­­newed at the end of the school year, Veronica sued, alleging national-origin discrimination.

Her only direct evidence was a comment that the principal had allegedly made months earlier that suggested Veronica look for an open position at a school in the district that served more Indian students.

The court tossed out the case, concluding that the school district terminated Veronica because she couldn’t manage her classroom, something observations made clear. Veronica’s claim that she would have performed better in a third-grade classroom was rejected as irrelevant, given that she was certified to teach many grades. (Dass v. Chicago Board of Edu­ca­­tion, No. 10-3844, 7th Cir., 2012)

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