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John, Employment Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 5555
Experience:  Exclusively practice labor and employment law.
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We are a travel agency operating in the state of Illinois.

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We are a travel agency operating in the state of Illinois. We have a 12-year employee who was overheard by several staff members making a racial slur to a client on the telephone. The client was upset and contacted a different staff member to complain of the agent being "extremely rude", but so far has not taken any other actions. A racial slur is not acceptable in this office and not to be tolerated, so I would like to terminate this employee. Is this act sufficient on its own to be cause for termination? The employee in question is over the age of 70, full time, and in the past we have had to address some concerns about her hearing the improper information, but never was age or hearing ever mentioned as reasons for terminating, never even a thought. But that has nothing to do with this issue. Is there any risk or preventions of which I should be aware?
Hi, thanks for submitting your question today. My name is XXXXX XXXXX I’m happy to assist you with your question today.

I do not believe the employee would have a basis to sue under state or federal law and this would be a valid reason to terminate employment from the question as you have stated it. First a little background on Illinois law. Illinois like most states is an employment at will state - meaning the employee can be disciplined or terminated for any reason that is not otherwise a violation of law. These exceptions are the civil rights protections (e.g., age, race, sex, religion), violations of public policy (e.g., fired for attending jury duty, for refusing to break the law, for reporting illegal activity by the employer (aka a "whistleblower violation"), or having some contractual right to a just cause employment (meaning the employer cannot terminate you without industrial due process - which basically insures a fair and accurate investigation and decision). Without any of these exceptions, courts find that the employer has a legitimate business right to operate its business however it sees fit and the court will not second-guess the employer.

In this case you have an employee that exposed your agency to potential legal liability if the customer were to complain to the state attorney general or human rights commission. This is a perfectly legitimate business reason for termination. The employee is part of the protected age class under the civil rights laws (being over 40), but that doesn't protect him from ever having to be subject to discipline or discharge. He'd have to not only prove in lawsuit that he was terminated because of his age, but that this racial slur was not a legitimate non-discriminatory reason to terminate him. That would be a very difficult burden for him, and I'm doubtful an attorney would even take his case. Further any civil rights investigation would be dropped as soon as you revealed to the agency that he was terminated for using a racial slur...because these very agencies are set up to protect civil rights!

The thing I would recommend you do is write a letter for this employee, and to place a copy in his personnel file, the findings of your investigation of this racial slur incident and the reasoning for his termination - i.e. that you have found that he made a racial slur to a customer, that you have no tolerance for discrimination against customers and the same is the reason for his termination. What that does is, if the civil rights agencies want to investigate, or if a plaintiff's attorney wants to review his matter, you have clearly stated and legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the termination.

I believe this answers your question. However, if you need clarification or have follow-up questions regarding this matter, I will be happy to continue our conversation – simply reply to this answer. If you are otherwise satisfied with my response, please leave a positive rating as it is the only way I am able to get credit for my answers. Thank you, XXXXX XXXXX wish you all the best with this matter.

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