Workplace discrimination lawsuits are caused by bad-apple managers with ill intent, right?

If that were always true, you could just toss the bad apples and be home free. Unfortunately, in the court cases we see, lawsuits are often triggered by well-intentioned managers who simply … make mistakes. That really complicates things for companies that are genuinely committed to equal opportunity and fair play.

Here’s an example where a manager who may not have had a biased bone in her body, nonetheless got her company sued for religious discrimination.

Yolanda runs a large department, and just promoted Jane to assistant manager. Now another employee, Sam, has walked into her office and closed the door.

“Yolanda, I’ve been here a lot longer than Jane, and I have management experience. So I was wondering why I was passed over.”

“Well, Sam, I thought about you, but some time ago you requested a religious accommodation because you keep the Sabbath. This position requires that you work on Saturdays, which I assumed you can’t do.”

You probably see where this is going. Yolanda’s not Jewish and doesn’t understand the Jewish faith. She figures that because Sam the employee asked for Saturdays off, Sam the manager would require the same. Turns out Sam would be willing to work Saturdays if it meant higher pay and advancement opportunities. Sam’s mad. He sues. And he wins.

What’s interesting about this scenario is that a manager most likely made a split-second decision that had nothing to do with bias or prejudice. Yet that decision resulted in an act that was highly discriminatory toward Sam.

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