A federal jury recently awarded a former Novant Health employee $10 million dollars in a wrongful termination lawsuit, concluding Novant violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by terminating the white male employee based on his race and gender.
In this case, the white male plaintiff had consistently positive performance reviews, but was abruptly terminated and then replaced by two diverse candidates who job shared to fill his position. The plaintiff alleged that the true reason for his firing was to allow Novant to hire diverse candidates as part of a sweeping diversity mandate.
Though Novant Health argued the employee was terminated for legitimate performance issues, the jury sided with the plaintiff, determining that the employee’s status as a white male was a motivating factor in his termination. A major factor for the jury appeared to be the lack of any documentation of the male employee’s allegedly poor performance.
Takeaways for Employers
It is critical for employers to adequately document performance issues contemporaneously when they arise. This is true for all employees – regardless of race or gender.
By documenting performance issues, employers can support their decision to terminate an employee with objective facts, mitigating the likelihood of a successful discrimination claim. In addition to documenting performance issues, employers should also document steps taken to help employees improve, further justifying termination when an employee fails to make progress.
In addition, while diversity initiatives are unquestionably important and valuable, employers must be cautious about putting excessive pressure on managers to hire diverse candidates. Employers cannot terminate white males simply to make way for diverse candidates. It is important to remember that any termination based on race or gender is illegal – even if the employee is a white male.