Ellen Bahr was a supervisor for Capella University and regularly had to evaluate workers in her department. One black woman was performing far worse than the rest of the workers, so Bahr placed her on an improvement plan. Even then, the employee’s work remained below standard.
Bahr consulted with her superiors about the employee and was told to “go slow” with her because she had a “history” that was “racially based.”
When Bahr conducted the next round of reviews, her supervisors insisted on seeing the black woman’s evaluation before releasing it to the employee. When the university’s legal department began looking over the evaluation, Bahr objected, claiming the worker was being treated differently because of her race.
Shortly, Bahr began receiving poor evaluations herself, and she was eventually terminated. She sued under the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), claiming the university retaliated against her because she opposed a discriminatory practice.
A state district court dismissed the case, ruling Bahr had to prove the practice she opposed was illegal. The state court of appeals reinstated the case, stating that the MHRA protects employees who in good faith believe they are opposing a discriminatory practice. Barring a settlement, the case will now go to trial.
Advice: Don’t work hard to avoid one type of discrimination only to commit another.
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- Consider offering long-term care insurance
- Be on guard for age discrimination suit if older worker offers to work for less
- Stick with objective assessments to ensure your processes aren't swayed by bias
- Failing to follow call-in rules doesn't void FMLA claims