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What’s the cost of a chair? A lot less than a lawsuit

by on
in Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: Minor squabbles between employees and supervisors escalating into illegal "discipline."

Risk: If left unchecked, they can escalate, resulting in discrimination or retaliation claims.

Action: Use the following case to show to managers the dangers, to the organization and their jobs, of becoming bogged down in petty power plays.

If you see a supervisor caught in a running dispute with an employee over office equipment, parking spaces or even a desk chair, don't write it off as a petty quarrel.

If ignored, such minor disputes can snowball into discrimination or retaliation lawsuits.

Instead, keep an eye out for such obviously personal battles and remind managers that their actions, often cloaked in the mask of "discipline", can bring a world of legal trouble.

Recent case: Dan Ryan used a certain chair at work for 30 years, but his supervisor removed it one day, making Ryan work standing up. At the same time, younger workers were allowed to sit at their workstations.

When Ryan brought in a doctor's note supporting his need for a chair, the supervisor gave him a stool. Ryan then retrieved his chair from storage. With that, the supervisor again took it away and gave it to a younger employee.

Ryan sued, claiming the supervisor altered his working conditions because of his age. A court let the case proceed to trial.

While trivial acts that make employees unhappy don't provide grounds for a bias lawsuit, the court said, Ryan could file suit because the supervisor's action caused him "unnecessary physical pain and suffering" by making him stand all day. (Ryan v. O'Halloran Intl. Inc., No. 4:03-cv-90531, IASD, 2004)

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