When an employee complains about race discrimination, you know to immediately investigate. But what if a manager complains about her subordinate's racial comments? Can the company tell the manager to hold off disciplining the employee until it's had a chance to investigate the discrimination claim? Yes, as a new ruling shows.
It's perfectly reasonable for you to call a "time-out" on employee discipline, even if that means the manager must forgo some of her responsibilities during the investigation. Interfering with her duties isn't deemed retaliation against her for bringing the alleged discrimination to your attention. So long as you move the investigation along, you'll be on safe legal ground.
Recent case: Oley Njie was a black branch manager at Regions Bank in the Atlanta area. But friction developed when the bank hired a new white assistant manager. Njie claimed that her new subordinate, a "good ol' girl" whose father had been in the Klan, had referred to her as "the token" and "the quota."
Njie complained to upperthat her assistant didn't want to work for a black supervisor and refused to follow directions. Njie wanted to discipline her assistant for insubordination, but the regional manager told her to hold off until he could investigate her racial bias claims.
Njie quit and sued the bank, claiming it had stripped away her supervisory duties as punishment for her complaint about her subordinate's bias. The appeals court disagreed, saying it was reasonable for upper management to try to cool the situation pending an investigation, and that didn't amount to an adverse employment action. (Njie v. Regions Bank, et al., No. 05-13061, 11th Cir., 2006)
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