With e-mail being introduced as evidence in more court cases, disgruntled employees seemingly could have a wealth of comments to potentially support their claims. Where do courts draw the line?
In one recent case, a 62-year-old employee was let go as part of a reduction in force. He thought his age was the reason he was laid off.
In court, the employee pointed to a series of e-mails between two managers about the possibility of an age bias claim. One e-mail discussing the upcoming termination ended with “P.S. I just cannot shake this feeling that we’re doomed!”
According to the employee, that proved age was a factor and the higher-ups were looking for ways to cover their tracks. The company, on the other hand, argued the managers were just concerned the employee would sue — which is exactly what happened.
The judge sided with the company, ruling that talking about a possible lawsuit doesn’t prove there actually was bias.
Avoid these conversations
The company got the suit tossed, but not without a lot of hassle — and legal fees. Best bet for managers: Discuss legal concerns in person only. As this case shows, employees may try to interpret what they read in an e-mail in a way that supports a nefarious claim.
Other e-mail conversations managers should avoid:
- Complaints about legally protected actions (for example, “I can’t believe she’s taking leave again“)
- Talks about whether or not the company should contact an attorney
- Negative performance reviews, and
- Discussions about salaries, bonuses or promotions.
Cite: Geiger v. Tower Automotive