One of my favorite references to the Shirley Sherrod fiasco last week came from Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s weekly radio broadcast “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” is an entertaining quiz show based on the week’s news. When Sagal was discussing USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s firing of Sherrod based on his viewing a two-minute video segment from Sherrod’s 45-minute speech, Sagal quipped:
“This explains why Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thinks that the Wizard of Oz is a black and white film about a farm girl in Kansas.”
Sagal’s comment made me think of some employers I’ve represented and the risks associated with firing someone without getting the employee’s side of the story. First, the employer’s conclusions about what happened will often be wrong. Second, if the employee later sues for discrimination or retaliation, the employer’s not getting the employee’s side of the story makes it look like the employer was acting out of a discriminatory or retaliatory motive. The employee, now turned plaintiff, will argue that the employer did not get the employee’s side of the story because the truth did not matter — what was really motivating the discharge was the employee’s race, age, sex, protected activity, etc.
Employers getting the employee’s side of the story before taking any disciplinary action make better and safer decisions.