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Prepare to show you were fair if disabled workers take a hit during RIF

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, poor appearances lead to lawsuits. That can certainly be the case when a reduction in force (RIF) seems to disproportionately affect a protected class of workers.

However, an employer will have a valid defense if it can explain the impact and show prejudice couldn’t have played a part.

Recent case: Susan worked for Trane in Minnesota when she had to take FMLA leave for breast cancer treatments.

Almost a year after completing the treatments, her division was shut down when the company relocated  some of its functions to North Carolina.

The company redistributed Susan’s work to North Carolina employees, including one nondisabled man who was hired after Susan completed her treatments but before another co-worker revealed a disability and sought treatment. Neither Susan nor the other woman were allowed to transfer.

Susan sued, alleging that Trane had discriminated against the disabled women by terminating them both, while hiring a nondisabled North Carolina man to take over their work.

The court said that wasn’t enough evidence of discrimination, because the man was hired after Susan finished treatment but before the second woman announced her disability. Their respective disabilities, therefore, couldn’t have been the motivation to hire the male. (Schaaf v. Trane, No. 12-2465, DC MN, 2014)

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