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Iron-clad misconduct proof not needed to fire

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Worried about terminating an employee because the allegations against him amount to a he-said, she-said situation? Relax. Courts don’t want to become HR departments and don’t want to mediate every dispute.

Judges merely want to see that an employer investigated the allegations before making a final decision and that whoever made that decision honestly believed it was the right one. You won’t have to prove you were right—just honest.

Recent case: Ethan, a white manager, was known as a strict supervisor. At one point, he reported an incident between two of his crew members during which a white woman held a knife to the throat of a black co-worker. Three years later, the white woman reportedly told Ethan, “Someone is going to pay for telling on me for pulling a knife on Earnest’s throat.”

Shortly after, the company investigated when two other women on Ethan’s crew accused him of sexual harassment. The company apparently didn’t believe Ethan’s claim that it was a set-up orchestrated by the woman he had earlier reported in the knife incident.

Ethan was fired and he sued, alleging race and sex discrimination. He argued that he had reported the knife incident as a racial attack and that the women had all ganged up on him because he was a male.

The court tossed out his lawsuit. It reasoned that the employer was free to believe the women and fire Ethan rather than believe his conspiracy theory. (Moody v. Vozel, et al., No. 13-3772, 8th Cir., 2014)

Final note: It helps to conduct standard investigations, but you don’t need a rigidly standard process. Just use the same steps each time. And always give everyone a chance to tell their side of the story.

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