The aim of any good harassment policy is to stop problems before they turn into a litigation nightmare. Reaching a compromise early, even when you aren’t convinced anything illegal has happened, makes sense if that settlement doesn’t lead to a retaliation lawsuit later.
To minimize your legal risk, require all parties to sign off on the agreement. And if that settlement involves a transfer, make sure the affected employee understands the consequences if the jobs aren’t exactly alike. That way, the person can’t later say the transfer was involuntary and claim retaliation.
Recent case: Mary Guerrero worked for Lowe’s for three months as a sales coordinator and shared an office with her supervisor. Guerrero claimed the supervisor was boorish and didn’t get along with many people.
After the two had a loud argument, a store manager intervened. He suggested Guerrero might be happier working as a sales associate in the hardware department. She agreed, saying she’d “had enough” of her supervisor and had “no problem” moving to another position.
A few weeks later, Guerrero changed her mind because her hours had changed. She quit and sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about her first supervisor.
The court didn’t buy it, reasoning that the store manager had a nondiscriminatory reason for offering the transfer: separating two employees who clearly clashed. And since Guerrero agreed to the move, she couldn’t claim now that Lowe’s forced it on her. (Guerrero v. Lowe’s Home Centers, No. 05-CV-6272, WD NY, 2006)