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Absolute proof not required, just good faith

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When deciding on discipline, don’t stress too much about reaching iron-clad proof of guilt. As long as you conduct a fair and impartial investigation aimed at getting to the truth, courts don’t demand that you get every fact right. They do demand that you act in good faith, but you can be factually wrong.

Recent case: Indira was a tenured professor of South Asian languages, linguistics and cultures at the University of Minnesota. She is of Indian-Hindu ethnicity.

She often complained that the university favored other employees, particularly those of “Southeast or East Asian race, religion, and ethnicity.”

Her supervisors complained about outbursts Indira allegedly made when talking about these and other issues and admonished her to try to get along better.

In a letter to the university president, Indira complained about her course assignments. However, she never directly mentioned race, sex, national origin or other forms of discrimination.

Shortly after, unsigned memos began appearing in university mailboxes, purportedly from university offices and written on university letterhead. The memos suggested the university was conducting an ongoing investigation into discrimination against protected groups and that the recipients would be well advised to simply resign. Of course, the memos turned out to be bogus.

Suspecting Indira, the university seized her employer-issued computer, where they discovered versions of the fake memos. When confronted, she denied being the source. She was terminated and sued, alleging discrimination.

Her lawsuit didn’t get far. The court said that as long as the university honestly believed Indira had sent the fake memos, it didn’t matter that she steadfastly denied writing them. The court said the university’s stated discharge reasons were legitimate and not motivated by bias. (Junghare v. University of Minnesota, No. A16-0456, Court of Appeals of Minnesota, 2016)

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