Going over supervisor’s head may be a protected activity

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Organizations are entitled to their employee’s loyalty, but that doesn’t mean employees have to remain silent about alleged discrimination. Although it may seem disloyal, approaching a customer about a workplace problem may be a protected activity under some circumstances.

Punishing such “disloyalty” may land you in court on a retaliation charge, and it may even catch the EEOC’s attention.

Recent case: Kristine Williams and Gail Hall worked for a company that provided dialysis services in a Michigan correctional facility. The prison system therefore was the company’s customer.

Williams and Hall took care of prisoners undergoing dialysis and became distressed because the television in the clinic was set to the Black Entertainment Television channel. When comedian Dave Chappelle performed a particularly raunchy routine, the women complained to their employer that they found the material offensive.

The company’s owner dismissed their concerns.

That’s when the women took their complaint to the prison system. When the owner found out, he fired the two for disloyalty because they had complained to the customer.

Williams and Hall sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.

The trial court agreed that going around the company to the prison system was a protected activity and could not be punished. It then ordered a trial. EEOC attorneys will try the case. (EEOC v. Kidney Replacement Services, No. 06-13351, ED MI, 2007)  

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