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Quick fix can help avoid harassment liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

Q. One of our male supervisors fired what we in HR thought was a poor-performing female employee. During the exit interview, the terminated employee told us that her supervisor fired her because he was sexually harassing her and she threatened to report him if it didn’t stop. It turned out that her claim was legitimate. We immediately called her back to work.

We thought we had dodged a bullet but, unfortunately, we’ve been contacted by her attorney, who threatened a lawsuit unless we agree to settle her claim for a lot of money. We will contact an attorney to represent us, but we want to know if the fact that we brought her right back to work is going to make a difference?—L.W.

A. You absolutely did the right thing by conducting a speedy investigation and getting her back to work right away. If nothing else, you have eliminated wage loss as an element of damages. But you may have even better news.

One element of a discrimination case is proof of an “adverse employment action.” In a similar case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the employee had not suffered any adverse employment action because the employer acted so promptly to reverse the termination.

These discrimination cases are very fact-specific, and it would be important to know what job the employee was returned to and whether it was made intolerable because of what happened. But quickly correcting your initial mistake should be a very significant fact in any case that might be brought. And, in most cases, no case will be brought at all.   

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