After bias complaint, beware future discipline

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who complain about discrimination sometimes think that makes them immune from discipline. They may have heard that employers can’t retaliate against employees who complain. That’s true, but only to a point.

Retaliation is anything that would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place.

But employers aren’t powerless against employees who have complained. They just have to be smart when imposing discipline.

The best approach: Make sure the managers who decide on discipline don’t know about the prior complaint. That way, the employee can’t show a connection between her complaint and the discipline. After all, managers can’t retaliate for something they don’t know about.

Recent case: Alice Cox worked as a secretary for a sheriff’s department before being transferred to a job at the local prison. Unhappy, she filed an age discrimination complaint.

Then Cox filed a written complaint alleging she had witnessed a guard strike a prisoner. The sheriff’s office investigated her allegations and concluded they were false. Cox was called before a supervisory board for potential discipline. The board, which knew nothing about her age discrimination complaint, concluded Cox had made a false report and recommended termination.

After she was fired, Cox added retaliation to her age discrimination lawsuit. She alleged she had been punished not for making a false report, but for complaining about age discrimination.

The court didn’t buy it, noting that no one who was involved in the false-report case knew anything about her age discrimination complaint. It tossed out her case. (Cox v. DeSoto County, No. 10-60405, 5th Cir., 2011)

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