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Is It Discrimination, or Just a Failure to Communicate?

January 14, 2022


One of the most famous lines in movie history comes from the 1967 picture “Cool Hand Luke.” After the prison warden (played by Strother Martin) uses a club to strike a rebellious convict (played by Paul Newman), the warden looks at the other convicts on the chain gang and says, almost apologetically, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Failures to communicate happen frequently in the workplace. During my years investigating and defending discrimination claims, I encountered numerous situations in which, although alleged, a person’s protected characteristic—age, sex, race, religion, etc.—was not, in my view, the reason for a terminated workplace relationship. Instead, it was a breakdown in communication and trust.

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