Casual question about bias isn’t protected activity

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Can a simple inquiry about discrimination become the basis for a lawsuit? No, according to the 11th Circuit.

Recent case: At one point during her time as a Books-a-Million employee, Kimberly Smith asked her boss if she was being discriminated against because of her race. She didn’t say anything more about it until she got a better-paying job with another employer.

Then she sued, alleging pay discrimination. She also said she had been retaliated against when she failed to receive a bonus.

The court nixed the retaliation claim because she hadn’t complained about discrimination—she had merely asked a casual question. The court dismissed her other claims, too. (Smith v. Books-a-Million, No. 09-15478, 11th Cir., 2010)

Final note: Do you perform exit interviews when an employee resigns? If so, document the conversation to show the employee didn’t complain about discrimination.

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