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When harassment allegations surface, launch comprehensive investigation right away

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Are you sure your company is doing everything it can to prevent lawsuits? Start by looking at how you react to discrimination complaints.

If you know exactly what to do from the moment an employee first complains until he or she files a federal lawsuit, there’s no need to read further. But if you hesitated for even a moment, keep reading.

The fact is, most HR departments aren’t as prepared as they should be. Most could learn a thing or two from this recent 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals case.

Recent case: Leo Tarr, a black man from the African nation of Liberia, was a temp agency employee who worked as a computer consultant at FedEx Ground. Within a year, FedEx gave him a permanent position as a developer analyst.

Shortly after, Tarr began having problems with his co-workers, whom he accused of ridiculing the computer code he was creating as part of his job. Tarr then got into an argument with several co-workers. He complained to his supervisor that the co-workers had told him he was lucky FedEx had an affirmative action program.

The supervisor promptly sent an e-mail reporting the incident to his own supervisor and HR.

Almost immediately, two HR staffers met with Tarr to discuss his allegations. Tarr said he felt the affirmative action comment was racial and gave the names of others he believed had overheard the comment.

The HR team then met with each individual employee, as well as managers. They all denied hearing any comments about affirmative action or anything else that might have been racial in nature.

HR concluded the allegation was unfounded—and that Tarr and several co-workers just didn’t get along. HR informed Tarr of its findings and followed up to make sure he had no subsequent complaints.

Meanwhile, Tarr’s performance was falling and he was placed on a series of performance improvement plans, each with very specific goals. He failed and FedEx fired him. That’s when he sued, alleging racial harassment and retaliation.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said Tarr had no case, and that FedEx had done everything right. (Tarr v. FedEx Ground, No. 10-1455, 3rd Cir., 2010)

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