The Importance of Thorough — and Factually Consistent — Documentation When it Comes Time to Litigate a Discrimination Case

TV and theatrical depictions of lawyers and litigation often take a great degree of “artistic license.” (Scenes inside a courtroom room rarely look like what happens on a Law and Order show.) One thing shows and movies get right, though, is a good attorney’s ability to spot weaknesses in the other side’s position. On the screen, the lawyer may catch the person in a lie outright. In the real world, it more often relates to a skilled Atlanta employment discrimination lawyer’s ability to spot inconsistencies and expose them to undermine the other side’s credibility.

To avoid falling victim to this pitfall — whether you’re an employee alleging discrimination or an employer defending against such a charge — it is vital to ensure that you’ve maintained proper and complete documentation of the events that preceded the litigation and make sure that they consistently “sing from the same sheet of music,” so to speak. As an employer, that includes documenting all the steps you took before firing an employee, such as performance improvement plans and disciplinary actions.

For example, take the race discrimination case of an engineering and consulting firm and one of its project coordinators who worked in North Georgia. The coordinator, a Black woman, worked in Kennesaw for five years. During that time, she said she endured racial discrimination on multiple occasions.

In 2019, the employer allowed her to move to a new project in a new office under a different supervisor. The new supervisor spotted some deficiencies in the coordinator’s work and placed her on a performance improvement plan (PIP). The deficiencies centered around the “derogatory statements” the coordinator allegedly made about other members of the project team, as well as failure to follow the proper “chain of command” when it came to client interactions.

The coordinator’s PIP required her to review “the company’s code of conduct and harassment-free workplace procedures,” and also review “a website that included information about conversational leadership.” The PIP was clear that if the coordinator did not complete the PIP’s requirements, then she could incur “disciplinary action, up to and including termination.”

Two months later, after the coordinator allegedly spoke to a client representative about an internal complaint she had launched, the employer fired the coordinator.

The coordinator alleged that her termination was the result of race discrimination and that her speaking to the client about her internal complaint was not a violation of her PIP.

‘Undisputed Evidence’ of Other Violations

The court pointed out that, even if the coordinator’s conversation with the client representative was not a PIP violation, the employer had sufficiently documented several other violations of the plan. The employer had undisputed evidence that the coordinator had not reviewed the code of conduct, had not reviewed the harassment-free workplace procedures, and had not reviewed the website about leadership. Each of these was a requirement of the plan, and each was something that the employer documented that the coordinator had not done, thus giving the employer a legitimate, nondiscriminatory basis for its decision to fire the coordinator, and entitling it to summary judgment on the coordinator’s discrimination claim.

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, it pays to have legal counsel with a deep and fully up-to-date knowledge of all relevant employment discrimination laws. The experienced Atlanta race discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert proudly offer clients precisely that sort of in-depth knowledge, as well as effective solutions to your employment discrimination issues. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation today.

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