- A production supervisor for a furniture manufacturer was fired for poor performance, not race discrimination, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, upholding a lower court's ruling (Chaney v. Haworth, Inc., No. 19-1697 (6th Cir., March 9, 2020)).
- Anthony Chaney’s employment with Haworth, Inc. began in July 2016; that October he received a warning about his performance. A few weeks later, on election night, Chaney, who is African American, overheard someone use a racial slur to describe President Barack Obama. After being issued a final warning regarding his performance that same month, Chaney met with the company's VP of global human resources to express his concern that his performance warnings "were the result of racial bias." Haworth eventually fired Chaney a few months later, saying he failed to meet the objectives outlined in his final warning. He sued, alleging a hostile work environment and race discrimination, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state law.
- A district court granted summary judgment for the employer. Observing that Chaney "severely downplays the thoroughness and detail of his warning and termination letters," the 6th Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision. The appeals court said Chaney had not shown that the company’s reason for firing him was pretext for race bias. The court noted that the first warning letter was several pages long and provided "many specific examples of Chaney’s substandard performance"; The final warning letter was "similarly detailed."
Court opinions continue to show that thorough documentation can provide employers with a strong defense. Experts have suggested manager training on common employer documentation mistakes, including a lack of documentation, vague terms, unclear employee expectations and use of snarky or sarcastic language.
In Chaney, the court noted that "no reasonable jury could conclude" that Haworth failed to act in response to the harassment complaints. One, for example, was investigated and resulted in a warning to the alleged offender.
If an employer knew or should have known about alleged harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees and fails to take "prompt and appropriate corrective action," an employer may be liable for the harassment, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). And harassment by superviors may be subject to a lower bar.
HR can create reporting procedures that start with taking all harassment and discrimination complaints seriously and make ensure that complaints are promptly investigated, experts have told HR Dive.