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The Rest of the Story
07/23/2010

Earlier this week, Shirley Sherrod resigned her job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after a video from a speech she gave at an NAACP event in March surfaced on the Internet. The edited clip gives the impression that Sherrod, who is African American, admits to refusing to help a white farmer because of his race. The video created a media frenzy, as Sherrod’s remarks were condemned by everyone from Fox News to the NAACP. Government officials quickly pressed her to resign.

Then we learned, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. When the video is reviewed in its entirety and in context, it is apparent that Sherrod is recounting something that happened 24 years earlier, before she worked for the government, that she had actually helped the farmer, and that the point of the story is the need to look past race. Apologies from White House officials, the NAACP, and Bill O’Reilly ensued, and the Agriculture Secretary offered her a new position. 
           
The lesson to be learned here, of course, is to conduct a thorough investigation and make sure you know all the facts before disciplining or firing an employee. Don’t jump to conclusions based on the first report or piece of evidence. Interview the alleged wrongdoer and get her side of the story. Then put it in writing and have her sign it. The things you learn could prevent a tragic mistake, or, conversely, confirm the need for discipline. An even-handed and well-documented investigation will also serve as evidence and show fairness if your decision later faces a legal challenge.  
 


Editors
Don Berner Image
Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
Boyd Byers Image
Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
Jason Lacey Image
Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
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