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Don’t let supervisor punish employees who cooperate in investigation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

If you discipline a supervisor for discrimination, make sure you can reassure employees who cooperated in the investigation that the supervisor won’t turn around and punish them.

Recent case: Dwight Hicks and several other co-workers at a group home run by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services cooperated in an internal investigation against their supervisor, Tommy Baines.

The agency investigated Baines, who is black, after a white employee complained that Baines had targeted him for poor treatment because of his race. The white employee said he had to endure being called “white cracker,” “Polack” and other racially derogatory terms.

The agency interviewed Hicks and his co-workers, who corroborated the white employee’s claims. The employer then reprimanded Baines.

That’s when Baines began to make life miserable for the cooperating employees, including sabotaging their work and changing their schedules to make it difficult for them to plan.

Hicks and the other employees sued, alleging retaliation.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial after concluding that the punishment Hicks and the others endured might be enough to dissuade a reasonable employee from cooperating with an internal discrimination investigation. (Hicks, et al., v. Baines, et al., No. 06-3782, 2nd Cir., 2010)

Final note: The employer should have considered transferring Baines to another position after it concluded he had been engaged in race discrimination. It makes no sense to leave a supervisor in a position to punish those who assisted in the investigation.

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