- Blog post
’34 years is enough,’ boss told him
Based on the facts presented in the scenario below, how do you think the court ruled on this employment-law case?
“I’m sorry, but we gave the promotion to somebody else,” supervisor Mark Dougherty told systems specialist Paul Peabody.
“Who?” Paul asked.
“Ginger Monkton,” Mark said.
“You can’t be serious,” Paul said. “She has far less experience in this field. She doesn’t have a college degree, and she has never negotiated a contract, which you listed as a prerequisite.”
“I am serious,” Mark said. “Ginger is amply qualified, and if you don’t mind my saying so, she’s a much better communicator than you are. That’s also a prerequisite.”
Not a great communicator
“I’d like you to state what you mean by me not being a good communicator,” Paul said icily.
“You want me to spell it out?” Mark said, his temper rising. “OK, here it is. You have a bad reputation in some quarters of this company. You’ve had 34 years to get it right, and that’s a long time. It’s enough.”
Paul sat back. “Thanks for being so frank,” he said. “You’ve just confirmed my suspicions. Yes, I’ve been here 34 years, and that makes me 56. Ginger is only – what, 35? – and so you’d rather promote her even though I’ve earned it.”
“Don’t twist my words,” Mark said. “It’s not her age, it’s her abilities.”
“Says you,” Paul said. “I’m getting a lawyer.”
Paul sued for age discrimination. Did he win?
Yes, Paul won an important preliminary victory when the federal courts refused to dismiss his age discrimination lawsuit.
An appeals court said supervisor Mark’s ill-advised and unfavorable remark about Paul’s 34 years with the company, coupled with the debatable qualifications of the younger person who was given the promotion, were enough to get Paul’s case in front of a jury. And as every employer knows, juries are notoriously favorable to employees.
Act, don’t react
Employees with an ax to grind can really push your buttons. There’s often a temptation to “tell them off.” That’s what Mark did, and it cost him.
When discussing employee grievances over a decision you’ve made:
- Stick to your objective, documented reasons for it.
- Avoid reacting if the employee goads you.
- If you feel you’re nearing the end of your rope, end the conversation politely but firmly.