Employees who come to HR with discrimination complaints may already have talked to a lawyer. They may be building a case and just waiting for someone to make a mistake. It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Rule No. 1 to remind managers: no retaliation.
Remember that making a good-faith discrimination report to is a protected activity and cannot be punished.
If a supervisor is the focus of a complaint, insist that the HR department review any disciplinary action against the complainant before implementing the discipline.
And check back with employees a couple of times in the weeks following their complaints to make sure they don’t think they’re being retaliated against. Take notes on your discussions (even if they say no retaliation has taken place) and file the notes away, just in case the employees claim retaliation later.
Recent case: Adrian Dogan-Carr, a black female, worked as a manager for Saks Fifth Avenue. She confronted her boss after several co-workers told her the boss had used racial slurs. He said his words were taken out of context. Then she got an e-mail from him that she thought was sexually suggestive. She complained to HR, as well as to the Saks CEO.
The HR office suggested that Dogan-Carr work things out with her boss. She met with him and he told her, “I know you went to corporate ... They don’t care ... They’re going to support me, regardless.” Shortly after, some of her job duties were removed. She sued, claiming a retaliatory demotion.
The federal court sent the case to trial, saying a jury should determine whether the job change, coupled with the boss’s comments, amounted to retaliation. (Dogan-Carr v. Saks Fifth Avenue, No. H-05-1236, SD TX, 2007)
Final tip: A simple follow-up would have alerted HR to the brewing problem, as would requiring prior approval for any changes in working conditions or discipline.