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Trouble looms when rookie replaces old pro

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s a warning for new supervisors who want to replace long-term employees with individuals of their own choosing: They could be courting a discrimination lawsuit if the replacements belong to a different protected class and aren’t as qualified as those being replaced.

While you may think that any at-will employee can be replaced easily, the fact is that if there’s a plausible discrimination claim, doing so may be the wrong decision.

Recent case: Cheryl, who is white, worked for a Catholic parish as a secretary for 30 years. The priest who supervised her never had any complaints about her work and allowed her to telecommute two days per week. Then the priest was replaced.

The new priest soon complained that Cheryl was rude and ended her telecommuting arrangement. Then he fired her for poor performance, replacing her with a Filipino man who had no experience in secretarial work, bookkeeping or any other tasks Cheryl had performed. He was also allowed to come and go as he pleased and was even allowed to run his own business on the side during work hours.

Cheryl sued, alleging race and sex discrimination.

The court looked at factors like the hiring of an unqualified candidate, testimony that the priest often treated women rudely and the difference in the schedules Cheryl and her replacement had been allowed to keep. The court concluded there was enough evidence of discrimination for Cheryl’s lawsuit to go to trial. (Belloni v. The Roman Catholic Bishop of San Francisco, No. 13-CV-03509, ND CA, 2015)

Final note: It’s always a red flag when a new supervisor suddenly finds fault with an older, dependable and previously satisfactory employee. Always make sure the case is well-documented and scrutinize all potential re-placements for possible signs of discrimination.

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