Here’s a tip that can save you from needless litigation: Make sure supervisors don’t play favorites with some employees at the expense of others. You never know which employee will later claim she was excluded from the “inner circle” that got preferential treatment because of a protected characteristic.
The best approach is to double-check that training, mentoring and promotion opportunities are offered to everyone.
Recent case: Dorothy was 64 years old when she started working as a copywriter for a cancer research firm. She claimed that the supervisor who hired her had begun discriminating against her because of her age.
She said the supervisor mentored younger employees and sent them totraining courses, but wouldn’t send her. She claimed that her responsibilities were gradually moved to younger, less experienced workers. She said that when she made a mistake, she was placed on a performance improvement plan, while younger employees who made similar mistakes weren’t.
Dorothy was fired when she was 67. She sued for age discrimination.
She lost at the trial court level, but now the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated her lawsuit. It reasoned that while ordinarily, the fact that the same supervisor hired Dorothy knowing her age also fired her would block a lawsuit, that wasn’t the case when the employee can show she was denied training opportunities that younger workers got. (Buchhagen v. ICF International, No. 13-1303, 4th Cir., 2013)
Final note: HR must keep tabs on all training opportunities. Make supervisors justify all training programs and why each employee was selected for each program. Find a way to open up training for everyone in the same job description. Notify all employees when training is available and explain how they can sign up.
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