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Don’t punish employees for participating in legal probes

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Kimberly Hill, a 10-year employee at the Kentucky Lottery Corp., testified at an unemployment compensation hearing on behalf of a co-worker who alleged discrimination. Soon after, the Lottery fired Hill and her husband, who also was a Lottery employee.

The couple sued, claiming that the Lottery pressured Hill to testify falsely at the hearing and then fired the couple in retaliation for her truthful testimony. The Lottery argued that she was fired for falsifying work records and he was fired for misusing a company gas card.

Result: The jury sided with the employees, awarding the couple nearly $4.4 million. About two-thirds of the award was punitive damages, in part related to the humiliation caused when Lottery officials included accusations in the Hills' termination letters, which were provided to a television station. The jury said those letters defamed the Hills. (Hill v. Kentucky Lottery Corp., No. 00-CI-004922, Jefferson County Cir. Ct., 2002)

Advice: Never try to persuade employees to bend the truth in a legal proceeding. And when employees are called to testify, don't retaliate against them for their participation.

Finally, remind managers to avoid justifying a firing by explaining the reasons in public, especially to the media. Simply explain that the employee "will not be working with us anymore."

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