Worker sends complaint to HR? You must respond

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management

Some employers believe that actually filing a lawsuit or EEOC complaint is the only protected activity. That’s simply not true. Em­ployees who voice concerns to HR about possible discrimination at work are also protected from retaliation.

Supervisors who angrily lash out at complaining employees risk exposing their employers to needless litigation.

Recent case: Dennis McArthur worked as an embalmer. McArthur is black and had difficulty with his white supervisor.

McArthur complained to HR by e-mail and letter that his boss wouldn’t let him interact with bereaved families, paid him less than white embalmers and denied him the full range of benefits his white co-workers enjoyed. McArthur said HR never responded.

Then his supervisor changed his schedule so he could no longer pick his daughter up from school. Then he was fired for allegedly taking a day off without HR approval.

McArthur sued, alleging race dis­­­­crimi­­nation and retaliation.

The company tried to get the case dismissed, arguing that McArthur hadn’t filed an EEOC action or lawsuit before being discharged. Therefore, he hadn’t engaged in protected activity.

The court lectured the employer on what constitutes protected activity. Complaints to HR about race discrimination certainly qualified, as did direct complaints to a super­­visor. (McArthur v. North Star Funeral Services of Florida, No. 10-24517, SD FL, 2011)

Final note: The employer made multiple mistakes. First, HR ignored McArthur’s e-mails and letters about alleged discrimination. It should have launched an immediate investigation. Then it allowed the supervisor accused of racism to discipline McArthur without first seeing whether such discipline was warranted.

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