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Before discharge, investigate supervisor’s claims

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in Discrimination and Harassment,HR Management,Human Resources

If you don’t want to subject your organization to liability for a supervisor’s biased or discriminatory discipline recommendations—whose flaws may not be apparent on the face of the recommendation—conduct at least a brief independent investigation.

Speak with co-workers or others involved in any incidents that form part of the supervisor’s report. Then decide on an appropriate punishment based on your investigation.

Recent case: Katherine Hankins, who is white, was fired from her job as an Airtran Airways flight attendant. Before the airline disciplined her, she complained that her black supervisor treated white employees poorly and was targeting her for write-ups as part of an effort to get her fired.

When an HR staff member received the supervisor’s write-ups, he also noticed an internal complaint filed
by one of Hankins’ co-workers. That employee claimed that Hankins had yelled at him in front of customers and had threatened to “kick his butt.” It was against company rules to yell at or threaten co-workers. Based on the write-ups and the co-worker’s complaint, HR decided to terminate Hankins.

She sued, alleging reverse discrimination. In addition, she charged that because her supervisor’s motives were racist, HR’s decision was tainted with racism, too.

But the court disagreed. HR made the decision after an independent assessment of Hankins’ performance and behavior—not by rubber-stamping an arguably racist supervisor’s suggestions.

That cut any link between possible discrimination and the company, and thus relieved it of liability. (Hankins v. Airtran Airways, No. 06-15406, 11th Cir., 2007)

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