In past rulings, courts have shown that even one stray comment can be enough to get employers on the hook for discrimination.
But in this recent case, a court ruled that a manager’s biased comment had nothing to do with an employee’s termination.
Too old to do his job?
Andre Williams worked for Waste Management Inc. when he spoke to his supervisor about a possible accommodation for an ailment.
Williams’ supervisor allegedly asked on multiple occasions if he was “too old” to do his job anymore.
When Williams later failed to report to work when he was scheduled three times, Waste Management fired Williams. He sued, claiming he was fired not because of attendance issues, but because of his age – and he referenced his supervisor’s comment as evidence.
But the 5th Circuit disagreed. First, it said Waste Management had a legitimate reason to fire Williams – he missed three shifts.
The court also said the supervisor who made the comment about Williams’ age wasn’t the ultimate decision-maker in his termination. In this instance, the comment wasn’t enough to establish age bias.
While the company won this case, it’s important for supervisors to be very careful about what they say – just one offhand biased comment can cause a lot of legal trouble.
Cite: Williams v. Waste Management Inc., 6/15/20.
Need more information?
Premier Learning Solutions’ 75-minute workshop, Workplace Retaliation: How Employers Can Avoid Claims, available on-demand, explains the steps you can take if you want to avoid expensive, unpredictable workplace retaliation claims.
You’ll get solid, actionable answers to your most pressing retaliation questions, including:
- What constitutes workplace retaliation?
- What are the specific elements of a retaliation claim?
- How does retaliation differ from harassment and discrimination?
- What should employees who suspect they’re victims of retaliation do?
- What’s the employer’s liability in cases of retaliation?
About the speaker: Diane L. Dee, President and Founder of Advantage HR Consulting, LLC is a senior Human Resources professional with over 25 years of experience in the HR arena. Advantage HR Consulting provides Human Resources solutions for small to mid-sized public and private firms. Diane also develops and conducts webinars on a wide variety of HR compliance and administrative topics and is the author of multiple white papers and e-books addressing HR compliance.
Click here for registration and more information.