Fired employees seeking money (or revenge) often wrack their brains to recall incidents that might justify a sexual harassment or discrimination lawsuit. Suddenly, that casual complaint to HR starts to look like a pretext for their discharge—at least in their minds and their attorneys’.
That’s why you should assume that every complaint will become the basis for a lawsuit. Prepare accordingly. That means documenting the complaint and its resolution for possible future use.
Recent case: Julie Griffin worked for South Piedmont Community College in the financial aid office. Griffin was fired two days after she admitted having altered her own records to receive financial aid for which she wasn’t eligible.
That’s when she remembered that she had complained to HR that her male supervisor was sexually harassing her.
She sued, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. Griffin claimed that her supervisor had sometimes winked at her in a suggestive fashion and sometimes placed his chair behind hers to watch her work at her computer.
But HR was ready. It explained how it had investigated Griffin’s complaint and determined that there was no sexual harassment.
The court dismissed her lawsuit. It reasoned that Griffin was fired for legitimate reasons—essentially fraud—and not in retaliation for complaining about alleged sexual harassment. Nor was an occasional wink considered severe enough to create a sexually hostile work environment. (Griffin v. South Piedmont Community College, No. 3:10-CV-412, WD NC, 2011)