Rogue supervisor didn’t make firing decision — but still got company in trouble

Even when front-line managers don’t decide who’s hired and fired, they can still get their companies caught in discrimination lawsuits.

In one recent case, a supervisor caught an African-American employee setting off firecrackers at a job site. The supervisor notified upper management, and the employee was fired for a blatant violation of their safety policy.

Seems like a pretty simple case, right? Wrong.

The employee sued for discrimination. Two white employees were caught doing the same thing and weren’t reported by the supervisor.

The company’s defense: The decision-makers were never aware of the other safety violations. The employee was fired based on his manager’s report. If the company knew about the other employees’ conduct, they would’ve been fired, too.

But that didn’t matter to the judge. The front-line manager discriminated against the employee by taking action against him and not his white co-workers. Therefore, the company was liable.

Bottom line: Companies can be on the hook for bias that upper management doesn’t even know about. That’s why effective training and strong anti-harassment policies are essential.

Cite: Madden v. Chattanooga City Wide Service Dept.

0 thoughts on “Rogue supervisor didn’t make firing decision — but still got company in trouble”

  1. Of course….How can you fix it if you don’t know about it but some judge making decisions that are impossible for business to live with and another minority using the legal system as a profit center.
    A company should be given the opportunity to fix issues as this and if they do no employee should get a penny. If they don’t then a second step would take hold. In our business a black women was stealing, got caught and said she would get money by going to EOC and claiming she was fired for being black. We pointed out the fact we knew she was black when we hired her. It was her theft and dishonesty that got her fired. That was the end of that. But the first thing on her mind was to make money off of her lack of character…and just claim discrimination. The judge in this case made a monumental blunder …too easy to bring these efforts at extortion.

  2. Steve, you are not making an apples-to-apples comparison, so the example you cite is invalid. I.E., if in your business two white women were previously caught stealing, but not fired, then this would be a valid comparison. In such a situation, the judge probably would have also thrown out this case.

    In the case of the firecracker case, management had two responsibilities they failed to fulfill: a. to sufficiently train supervisors as to their responsibilities under prohibited discriminatory practices law; b. to fully investigate all circumstances before taking disciplinary action against an employee.

  3. The supervisor is an agent of the company. A company cannot divorce itself from the actions of its managers, even low level managers. The company hired and retained this supervisor plus they provided him with both explicit guidelines and positive/negative reinforcement for his actions. The company is liable.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *