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Tennessee Court Makes It Easier to Sue Employers Over Illegal Firings

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In a decision that some legal observers found surprising, the Tennessee Supreme Court has reversed precedent and made it easier for workers to sue their employers when they believe they were fired illegally.

The court ruled 3-2 last week that employers must prove that workers' claims of discrimination or retaliation are false or else face a trial, according to The Tennessean.

Decades of precedent had put the burden of proof on workers, who had to prove they were not fired for legitimate reasons before they could take a case to trial, often a difficult task.

"Rarely do you have somebody who says, 'I'm firing you because you're black' or 'because you're over 40,''' said Wade Cowan, the attorney for the plaintiff in the case, Gossett v. Tractor Supply Co. Inc.

Cowan said the absence of such evidence has kept too many legitimate lawsuits from reaching trial.

According to the American Bar Foundation, in federal court more than 40 percent of employees in these type of cases are never able to go to trial because their cases are dismissed. Before this week's decision, Tennessee courts followed the federal model for deciding whether employment cases could go to trial.

Business groups and attorneys said the federal model is good. They predicted the state Supreme Court's decision will invite frivolous lawsuits and increase the cost of doing business in Tennessee.

Read more: Insurance Journal


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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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