Obviously, the simple answer is to not discriminate. But it also is important to have well-documented facts that support a business-related justification for the employer’s action and to demonstrate the plaintiff’s lack of proof of discrimination. A discrimination lawsuit begins as little more than an accusation, and the court process moves slowly, but eventually a plaintiff who cannot provide proof of discrimination will lose, usually by summary judgment.
A recent case successfully defended by this firm is a good illustration. The plaintiff was a 70-year old manager with 20 years on the job who was terminated by a younger senior manager. She was eligible to file an age discrimination complaint because she was in a protected category and had been fired, but the employer on summary judgment was able to show that she had no proof that her age was a consideration.
Although the plaintiff had received some criticism from her manager, there was never any discipline and her performance evaluation contained goals for her continued employment. However, the employer uncovered reason to believe that the plaintiff had made misrepresentations to the human resources department and provided a false document when called on to assist in the defense of a discrimination complaint by one of her employees. This caused the employer to submit an incorrect response to the other employee’s complaint. When the plaintiff acknowledged what she had done, the employer felt that all trust in her as a manager was lost, and her employment was terminated.
In granting summary judgment, the court held that the plaintiff did not produce any evidence of age bias, and that her employer’s evidence showed that her employment was set to continue but for the discovery of a serious lapse of judgment. In cases like this, the court does not second-guess the judgment of the employer, so the court did not try to decide if termination was the most appropriate course of action. The court only had to decide if the reason for the termination was bona fide, which it was. The employer’s undisputed, strong evidence compelled the court to release it from the litigation.
Such personnel decisions are never easy, but an honest exercise of judgment based on well-documented events will often provide a complete defense to an uncorroborated accusation of discrimination.
Michael N. LaVelle practices in the areas of labor and employment law including employment discrimination, labor board and other administrative agency practice and wrongful discharge litigation, and municipal law.