No, You Don’t Fire An Employee Right After Her Great Performance Review

 By Eric B. Meyer

Who fires the 68-year-old right after her great performance review?

The company that likes defending age-discrimination claims, that’s who.

Lenore Linkous worked for her Virginia bank as a Branch Manager for 11 years. Most recently, she received performance reviews for the years 2009 and 2010 stating that she “exceeds expectations” and “meets expectations,” respectively.

In August, 2011, however, the bank investigated allegations that Ms. Linkous was acting inappropriately at work. Upon completion of the investigation, the bank fired Ms. Linkous. According to the bank, the deciding factor was an inappropriate comment that Ms. Linkous made in front of customers and co-workers.

Is this comment worth getting fired over?

[Sit down, deep breaths, brace yourselves]

Ms. Linkous told a bank customer, a friend of hers, that when she saw her ex-boyfriend, she “would wear [her] nightgown, and it won’t be my flannel one.”

Oh, my word!

Now, although the bank had an employee disciplinary policy which provides that most first-time problems should be handled through warnings and/or additional training, the policy contemplates immediate termination when “the employee has done something so egregious that immediate dismissal is appropriate.” Here, the bank felt that Ms. Linkous’s comment warranted immediate dismissal.

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Heavens to Betsy, yes! A Southern lady should always carry herself with style and grace. Like Delta Burke from Designing Women. Not that I’ve ever watched it, or anything.

“A pretext for (the bank’s) desire to replace”

In the subsequent age-discrimination lawsuit, a federal court in Virginia didn’t hesitate to deny the bank’s motion for summary judgment in this opinion (case is Linkous v. Stellarone Bank). I dunno, something about pretext:

The fact that just five months before her termination Ms. Linkous received “exceeds expectations” reviews on the same behavioral and leadership qualities that stand as the proffered reason for her termination can reasonably be interpreted as an indication that StellarOne’s justification arose as a pretext for its desire to replace Ms. Linkous with a younger manager.StellarOne’s justification is cast into further doubt when one considers the company’s Corrective Action Policy, which provides that most first-time disciplinary problems be handled through a warning and/or additional training. A fact finder could reasonably be suspicious of StellarOne’s refusal to offer coaching or additional training to an employee who was until recently so highly regarded, particularly in the areas of her position now being called into question.”

And while court’s generally don’t second-guess personnel decisions, this one was so bone-headed that the court made an exception here.

Well, I do declare that the bank may want to settle this case.

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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2 Comments on “No, You Don’t Fire An Employee Right After Her Great Performance Review

  1. Funny! Almost as ridiculous as the black employee who was fired for theft after eating a few Doritos from his coworker’s bag, left unattended in the kitchen.

  2. I’m sorry, but this and her comment were pretty hilarious. And yeah, talk about age discrimination! Compared to what some younger workers say these days, I don’t know if you could even call what she said inappropriate!

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