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Tell managers: Get over it! Handling ­employee complaints is part of the job

by on
in Employment Law

It gets tiresome hearing complaints all day. But managers need to understand that showing any irritation when an employee gripes may taint any subsequent disciplinary action against the complainer.

The best approach is to accept every complaint with a smile and send it on to HR.

Recent case: Demond Hill, who is black, handled flight check-ins for Air Tran Airways. His immediate supervisor was a white man. The next-level manager was a black woman, who had the authority to discipline employees and recommend termination.

Hill repeatedly complained that his white boss favored white employees and gave Hill and other black employees the worst jobs and the fewest breaks. The supervisor and the manager reprimanded Hill several times over loud behavior and excessive breaks.

When Hill again complained about race bias to the black manager, she told him to “keep this in-house.” She would later admit that Hill’s constant complaints irritated her. When Hill complained again, she recommended his termination.

Hill sued, alleging retaliation. Air Tran argued Hill had been fired for a series of rule violations.

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a jury should decide whether Hill had really been fired in retaliation for his complaints. The court said the black manager’s irritation and request to keep complaints in-house were evidence that retaliation may have been the motive for Hill’s termination. (Hill v. Air Tran Airways, No. 09-4094, 6th Cir., 2011)

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