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HR in Small Business Company Fails Fair-Employment Test Companies have to comply with federal as well as state and local laws. One company that didn't was Professional Neurological Services (PNS), which was cited by the Chicago Commission on Human Relations when it discriminated against an employee because she is a parent. Chicago is one of a few cities that prohibit this type of discrimination. The difficulties began with employee Dena Lockwood as soon as she was interviewing for a sales position with PNS. The interviewer noticed that Lockwood made a reference to her children, and he asked her if her responsibilities as a parent would “prevent her from working 70 hours a week.” Lockwood said no, but the job offer she received suggests that the interviewer had his doubts. According to Lockwood's later complaint, female sales reps without children routinely were paid a $45,000 base salary plus a 10% commission. Lockwood was offered $25,000 plus the 10% commission. Lockwood negotiated and eventually accepted $45,000 plus 5%, with a promise to increase the commission rate to 10% when she reached sales of $300,000. She was also offered five vacation days a year; when she objected, she was told not to worry. Lockwood worked hard and eventually reached her sales goal. Then the company raised the requirement for the higher commission rate, and the situation took a turn for the worse. Lockwood's daughter woke up one morning with pink-eye, a highly contagious ailment. Lockwood called in to reschedule a meeting for that day, but her manager told her not to bother; she was being fired. When Lockwood asked why, the manager said “it just wasn't working out.” She went to the Chicago Human Relations Commission for help. The commission investigated and could find no evidence of performance-related problems that would justify her dismissal. Instead, the commission found that Lockwood was a victim of “blatant” discrimination against employees with children and awarded her $213,000 plus attorney's fees—a hefty fine for a company with fewer than 50 employees. PNS stated that it would appeal the decision. Questions 1. Why do you think “parental discrimination” was the grounds for this complaint instead of a federally protected class? Could you make a case for discrimination on the basis of sex? Why or why not? 2. How could Professional Neurological Services have avoided this problem? 3. Imagine that the company has called you in to help it hold down human resources costs, including costs of lawsuits such as this one. What advice would you give? How can the company avoid discrimination and still build an efficient workforce?
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