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When bias infects the decision-making process

Can an employer be absolved of liability for discrimination by one manager when the company has a different manager make the decision to fire an employee?  Not necessarily. If the job action is triggered by the bias of one manager, the whole decision making process is poisoned.

In Zades v. Lowe’s Home Centers, Inc., 446 F.Supp.2d 29 (D. Mass. 2006), the plaintiff was criticized for “goofing off” with other employees at the back of the store and for using profanity on the sales floor.  Shortly after the plaintiff returned from medical leave for pneumonia, the employer received two new written complaints about her behavior and use of profanity.  The employer fired her.  The employee alleged that the employer treated her more harshly than younger employees with similar infractions.  The employer unsuccessfully argued that its decision to fire her was based solely on its review of the employee’s prior disciplinary record.

The Court disagreed. It pointed out that the critical question is whether the ultimate decision to fire the employee was truly independent and neutral.  The Court found that, regardless of whether the individuals in the company’s internal appeals process acted in good faith in confirming the decision to fire the plaintiff, bad faith existed.  There was evidence that the supervisor’s impermissible age bias infected the judgment of the supposedly neutral decision makers.

Pamela A. Smith
Law Office of Pamela A. Smith
233 Needham Street, Suite 540
Newton, MA 02464


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