Human Resources News & Insights

Boss only audited her work — Was it bias?

An employee was fired after breaking a company policy. She says her work was scrutinized more closely than others’ because of her race. Her boss says it was because she’d broken the rules before.

Read the facts of this real-life case and decide: Who won?

The facts:

A new manager took over as head of the finance department. When he started, he was told one of the employees had previously been caught falsifying an expense report. After hearing that, he decided to conduct an audit of work — and sure enough, there was evidence she’d done it again. She was fired, and she sued the company. Why? No other employees were audited, and she claimed she was singled out because of her race.

The employer said:

Race had nothing to do with it — she was audited because she broke the rules before, and the company thought she might do it again.

Who won the case?

Answer: The employer.

Why: The company had a good reason to conduct the audit — the employee’s prior behavior.

To win the case, she would have had to show a “similarly situated” employee being treated differently. For example, if an employee of a different race had been caught falsifying expenses and not been audited, that might have been evidence of racial bias.

It’s a good lesson for managers everywhere: If you have a legitimate reason — and the documentation to back it up — there’s nothing wrong with keeping an extra close eye on one employee’s conduct or performance.

Cite: Nelson v. Sprint/United Management Co.

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