In the case of Machinchick v. PB Power, the employer’s own documentation was used to prove that discrimination played a role in the employee’s termination. How can you avoid a similar fate?
Here are the pertinent details for the Machinchick v. PB Power case. Machinchick was terminated from PB Power, and he sued, claiming that the termination was age-related. There were several pieces of evidence presented, including:
- A company business plan from PB Power in which it described as one of its competitive advantages its intention to “hand-pick employees whose mindset resides in the 21st Century, who are highly qualified to do their job, and who are motivated toward the success of the company.”
- A comment stating that the company wanted to “strategically hire some younger engineers and designers to support and be mentored by the current staff.”
- A performance review indicating that Machinchick had “low motivation to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment and new company management style.”
- In the first meeting with his supervisor, the supervisor asked Machinchick when he was planning to retire.
Taken alone, these items might not have individually been enough to have a case. Put together, they compound the evidence against PB Power.
The termination process itself was also presented as evidence. PB Power had a written disciplinary policy which said that a supervisor should engage in formal and informal conversations with a problematic employee before termination. Machinchick, however, was terminated without prior warnings.
This case involved the company’s business plan, comments made by the supervisor, and the fact that the company didn’t follow its own policy. Taking everything together, the court found that these items showed an inference of age discrimination.
What lessons can employers learn from this? There are several. First, ensure that your training extends to everyone involved at strategic levels in the organization so that they understand the company’s legal responsibilities. Next, if you have a policy in place, follow it consistently. Finally, remember that sometimes the combination of actions will create a pattern even when a single isolated incident taken alone may appear to be benign.
For more information on how employer documentation could be used as trial evidence, order the webinar recording of “Employment Documentation: Avoid Costly Mistakes with Defensible Drafting Strategies.” To register for a future webinar, visit http://store.blr.com/events/webinars.
Ann Bowden-Hollis is an attorney in the Gulf Coast office of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens and Cannada, PLLC, where she provides her clients with employment compliance counseling and training, business and contractual analysis, and problem-solving guidance.