In a surprise split decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court potentially has made life more expensive for companies sued by current or former employees for discrimination.

The 3-2 decision in Gossett v. Tractor Supply Inc. is a sharp departure from a decades-long precedent that puts the burden on employees to prove their firing was discrimination or retaliation (as opposed to legitimate reasons) before a case can go to trial. The Gossett decision forces employers to do the heavy lifting and prove a worker's allegation is false.

"The initial reaction from some folks in our community is this is egregious,'' Jim Brown, Tennessee director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told the Insurance Journal. "Big businesses will likely settle, but many small businesses will likely go out of business. The consequences of this will be significant."