Employers can take adverse action against difficult employees even when they fall within a protected class, according to a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In Viergutz v. Lucent Technologies, Inc., the court held that Lucent had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for refusing to re-hire Mr. Viergutz due to his “bad reputation” and his inability to get along with others. Dismissing Mr. Viergutz’s claims for age discrimination and harassment, the court relied on the Affidavit of the hiring manager stating that she did not interview Mr. Viergutz because she knew from other managers that he had a poor reputation and needed to be closely supervised.
Lucent could not have prevailed if it weren’t for its solid documentation of both Mr. Viergutz’s problems with co-workers and the fact he wasn’t interviewed because of these issues. Of course, documentation is especially important when taking adverse action against a member of a protected class. The point being that an employer’s hand is not tied when dealing with a protected employee so long as managers understand and adhere to best practices in the hiring and performance management processes.