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Bias charges false? Discipline isn’t retaliation

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

Not every discrimination claim turns out to be true. Some may be exaggerated, others just downright false.

If you investigate a complaint and conclude that it was untrue, you can and should discipline the employee. That’s especially true if the employee didn’t use the established company policy to launch her complaint, but went outside the chain of command with false charges.

Recent case: Pamela Tiggs-Vaughn worked for the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority as a receptionist for about six years before being discharged. Tiggs-Vaughn, who is black, sued, claiming the housing authority was retaliating against her for complaining about what she said was her boss’s rampant race discrimination.

But the authority saw things in a different light. It explained to the court that Tiggs-Vaughn hadn’t just complained about discrimination. It said she had sent letters to various outsiders that included allegations that her supervisor regularly went into rages at work.

The authority investigated her charges and concluded they were all false. For example, it could find no other employees who could corroborate the alleged rages. It then fired her for sending out what it considered false and misleading information about alleged discrimination.

The court dismissed the case. It reasoned that Tiggs-Vaughn hadn’t been fired because she made a good-faith report of alleged discrimination. She had been fired for making those allegations to outsiders and for lying when she did so. Firing her, therefore, wasn’t retaliation for a good-faith discrimination complaint. (Tiggs-Vaughn v. Tuscaloosa Housing Authority, No. 09-15485, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Retaliation is anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination in the first place. A reasonable employee might have complained about opportunities for blacks, but would have done so through normal channels such as HR or the EEOC.

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