The Employer's Legal Resource: Recent Oklahoma Case Illustrates Importance of Being Objective and Impartial When Disciplining Employees
In Ahmed v. Jazmoz Bourbon Street Café, Mr. Ahmed alleged he was retaliated against for filing an EEOC charge for racial and national origin discrimination. He was employed as a line cook at Jazmoz's. While Mr. Ahmed was on duty, a kitchen fire broke out. He did not attempt to help extinguish the fire. As a result, he was told by the kitchen manager that he was terminated for failing to help with the fire. However, Jazmoz's general manager rescinded the termination, wrote Mr. Ahmed up for failing to help put out the fire, and reassigned him to prep work. Mr. Ahmed refused to sign the written disciplinary form and the meeting became heated. Mr. Ahmed asked to be excused from work for the day and never returned to work. He argued the reassignment was actually a demotion, and under applicable law, an adverse employment action.
Mr. Ahmed alleged that during the meeting, the general manager showed him a letter from the EEOC regarding his pending EEOC charge. Further, there was no evidence that any other employees were disciplined as a result of the fire. Denying Jazmoz's motion for summary judgment, the Court found that the general manager's actions of showing Mr. Ahmed the EEOC letter could show a causal connection between his EEOC charge and the disciplinary action and resulting demotion.
No employer takes joy in disciplining employees. But when it happens, it must be done properly to avoid costly retaliation suits like this one. Thoroughly investigate all incidents before deciding on the appropriate disciplinary action. Apply all workplace rules consistently and fairly. Analyze potential risk factors and talk to an attorney, if necessary. Once you decide on disciplinary action, focus on the issue at hand. Articulate to the employee the actual and legitimate reason for the discipline. If possible, beware of and avoid suspicious timing. And, at all costs, do not mention an employee's previous EEOC charge or any other type of claim of discrimination. That's just asking for it.
For any questions on workplace investigations and training and procedures to avoid retaliation suits, do not hesitate to contact our employment group.
By Kenneth T. Short, firstname.lastname@example.org