Over the past decade, the legal landscape for trucking companies has been rattled. The phenomenon of “nuclear verdicts” — colossal jury awards, often exceeding $10 million, are reshaping the dynamics of litigation. These mammoth decisions impact both plaintiffs and defendants. They place a particularly heavy burden on trucking companies that are facing rising costs across
In a recent Missouri case, an employer terminated an employee named Gentry. See Gentry v. Orkin, LLC et al. (MLW No. 72514/Case No. WD81069). After his termination, however, Gentry’s manager wrote him a glowing letter of recommendation. Furthermore, the company listed Gentry as eligible for re-hire.
After being terminated, Gentry filed a Charge of Discrimination alleging that he was discriminated due to an alleged disability and/or his age. After the Commission issued the Right to Sue letter, Gentry did not file a lawsuit. While the employer thought they were free and clear, a few years after his termination, Gentry began to re-apply for positions with the company. When he was not re-hired, he filed a Charge of Discrimination alleging that the employer was retaliating against him for filing a Charge of Discrimination several years earlier. A jury found that the employer retaliated against Gentry, entitling him to damages and attorney’s fees.
Employers should take certain steps to mitigate their risks of retaliation claims:
- Ensure supervisors and managers are trained to give meaningful and accurate performance reviews. Giving glowing reviews of an employee who is underperforming makes it very difficult to terminate them later on. An honest performance review, however, creates a clear and concise paper trail where expectations are set for the employee and poor performance is clearly documented.
- Create and implement a policy which prohibits letters of recommendation for employees who are terminated. Period. Supervisors and Managers should be trained to direct reference inquiries to the human resources department who will confirm dates of employment, title and rate of pay only.
- Create and implement a policy which prohibits the re-hire of terminated employees. A clear and uniformly applied policy helps mitigate the suspicion of retaliation. Furthermore, advise employees at the time of hire and at the time of termination of this policy. These notices should be given in writing with a record being maintained in the employee’s personnel file and, in the event of termination, as part of the discharge paperwork. Implement the policy without exceptions.
Please note that this article is a general summary of best practices and does not attempt to cover your specific situation or detail the obligations you have under state or federal law. Natalie Higgins is a labor and employment lawyers based in St. Louis, Missouri. She represents employers in all facets of litigation as well providing consulting and training services to employers who want to proactively manage their employee litigation risks. Questions about your business can improve its discipline policy? Contact Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org.