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Don’t let complaint derail improvement plan

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees seem to believe they can stop disciplinary action just by complaining about alleged discrimination. That isn’t true.

A supervisor who has begun a push for improvement can and should continue with the effort despite the complaint. There’s no reason to worry that legitimate management amounts to retaliation.

Recent case: Kasib Jarvis, who is black, worked as a network consultant for Siemens. Because the job was suited to telecommuting, Jarvis worked out of his home office in Atlanta, far from his supervisor’s direct oversight. But there were rules that came with the arrangement, including that Jarvis had to maintain regular work hours and let his supervisor know if he was going to be “absent.”

The supervisor criticized Jarvis’ work when several projects were overdue. Jarvis was placed on a 30-day performance improvement plan (PIP), which prompted him to file a discrimination complaint with the central HR office.

When Jarvis’ projects remained overdue, the plan was extended. Then one day, the supervisor called Jarvis and heard traffic noises in the background. He suspected Jarvis was not home even though Jarvis said he was. The next day, Jarvis had marked himself out for a brief “appointment” at 1:00 p.m. However, he was in fact in Virginia for a job interview with another Siemens division, having flown there the evening before.

When the supervisor found out, he prepared discharge paperwork based on insubordination for lying about his schedule and whereabouts and for poor performance. The request was approved and Jarvis was fired.

He sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about discrimination.

The lawsuit didn’t fly. The court concluded that the supervisor had legitimate reasons for suggesting discharge, including poor performance and insubordination. There was no evidence connecting Jarvis’ complaint with his firing. (Jarvis v. Siemens, No. 11-13467, 11th Cir., 2012)

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