Gender discrimination lawsuits follow when supervisors talk freely.

by on January 14, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Hearsay can be admissible in a gender discrimination suit, so be careful what you say before and after.

Surely you can tell your supervisors that loose talk with subordinates can come back to haunt them.

But here’s a case with an interesting twist: An employee’s former supervisor spoke too freely and gave her ammunition to spark a sex discrimination lawsuit over the behavior of her new boss.

Facts of the case
A construction company in Florida fired a female employee three weeks after a new supervisor arrived on a project. The supervisor cited what appeared to be a legitimate reason for his action; her position was being eliminated so he could bring in more workers who were skilled in carpentry, which she was not.

But the female worker sued for gender discrimination, claiming that excuse was a pretext for gender bias. The courts refused to throw out her case at summary judgment.

What gave traction to this gender discrimination case? An ill-advised comment by the former boss. As he was leaving for another project, he hinted to her that her new supervisor didn’t like women. Another female co-worker testified that the departing boss told her the new supervisor didn’t want women on his work site, and predicted he would fire her quickly.

It wasn’t hearsay
That may sound like hearsay, but this court said statements by agents of a company – like the parting supervisor in this case – are admissible when they concern an employment matter the speaker has authority over.

It’s one more reason to caution bosses that anything they say may be used against the company in a gender discrimination lawsuit.

Cite: Horne v. Turner Construction, No. 04-14775, 11th Cir., 6/21/05.

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