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Best defense against bias suit: consistency

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

You simply never know which employee will sue for discrimination. Your best defense is to consistently treat all employees equally. Make all your workers follow all your workplace rules all the time.

If you do make an exception, document why the situation warranted deviation.

Recent case: Jennifer had worked for Cornell University for just under three weeks when she became in­­ca­­pacitated due to a difficult preg­­nancy. Her doctor said she temporarily couldn’t work. She applied for short-term disability benefits.

Her application was denied be­­cause the disability policy required em­­­­­ployees to have worked for the university for at least a month before they could tap the benefit. The university terminated Jennifer, but told her that it would hold her job open for four months. But Jennifer had al­­ready moved back to her home state of Georgia and claimed she didn’t have the money to get a doctor’s clearance or return to New York.

When Cornell hired a replacement, Jennifer sued. She claimed she had been discriminated against because she was pregnant. She argued that other new employees had been allowed to take short-term disability leave for health reasons.

The university produced evidence showing that had never happened. No one who had worked for the university for less than a month had received short-term disability benefits. Nor did Cornell hold anyone’s job open for a longer than it held Jennifer’s. Her case was dismissed. (Wilcox v. Cornell University, et al., No. 11-CV-8606, SD NY, 2013)

Final note: It’s a good idea to perform at least an informal internal audit to ensure you don’t make exceptions to the rules for anyone without explaining exactly why you did. Making an exception for an employee like Jennifer would simply open you up to accusations from others that you discriminated against them.

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