Employee Evaluations and Dismissal

Positive evaluations can be used to support claims of wrongful dismissal.

Church Law and Tax 1991-03-01 Recent Developments

Employee Relations

A Pennsylvania court ruling illustrates how employee evaluations can be used by fired employees to support their claims of unlawful dismissal. A Jewish employee was fired from his management job after he began objecting to a company newsletter that contained religious materials, and to Bible verses printed on payroll checks. The employer claimed that the dismissal was based on the employee’s inconsistent job performance and poor attitude. The dismissed employee sued his former employer, claiming that his dismissal violated state law prohibiting religious discrimination in employment. The employer insisted that the dismissal was caused by non-religious considerations including poor job performance and attitude. In ruling in favor of the former employee, the court observed that prior to the time when the employee first complained about the Bible verses printed on his paychecks, he “was consistently given the highest possible ratings for job performance on company performance evaluations. [He] maintained these high ratings until the last two months of his employment.” To illustrate, in a job evaluation completed just two months prior to the employee’s dismissal, the employer indicated that the employee “does an excellent job, is always here when needed. Good work on phone, knows his responsibilities and performs them well.” This evaluation persuaded the court that the employee had been terminated because of his objections to his employer’s religious practices, and was not based on inadequate work or poor attitude. This case illustrates a very important principle—employee evaluations are a very important personnel practice, but they must be done objectively. It is all too common for employers to “take the path of least resistance” and award “inflated” marks to employees with significant job-related problems. As this case indicates, such a practice can lead to undesirable legal consequences in the long run. Brown Transport Corp. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 578 A.2d 555 (Pa. Common. 1990).

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