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Document problems caused by ‘Difficult personalities’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees are harder to manage than others.

Difficult employees may be sensitive to perceived discrimination—especially if they also happen to be members of a protected class such as race, sex or national origin. They may think they have to work harder and appear smarter than others. If they lose a plum assignment, that may be enough to spur a discrimination lawsuit.

That’s one reason you should carefully document how you handle easily bruised egos. If you have to defend yourself later, you can explain exactly how you dealt with the difficult employee and detail the particular problems his personality caused. You’ll be able to show that he lost the assignment because of his personality, not his race or nationality.

Recent case: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hired George Alcala, who is Hispanic, as an engineer. Alcala became frustrated when projects he wanted the USACE to take on were sidelined. When it promoted a white male to run a project Alcala wanted to run, he claimed discrimination based on national origin.

Alcala claimed, among other things, that he heard superiors refer to him as a “kingdom builder,” and that supervisors didn’t respond to his e-mails questioning why his projects were rejected and why someone else received a promotion.

But the USACE was ready with explanations. First, supervisors testified that only Alcala referred to himself as a kingdom builder. Second, they testified that, although they may not have responded to Alcala’s e-mails, they did in fact meet with him about the content of those e-mails. The supervisors explained to Alcala that his projects were rejected for budgetary reasons, not because of any preconceptions about his abilities. They also testified that Alcala wasn’t chosen for the project because he had refused to work with some of the others assigned to it.

Their rational explanations won out. The court dismissed the case. (Alcala v. Harvey, No. 07-40190, 5th Cir., 2007)

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