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Inspect, investigate ASAP to prevent hostile work environment from festering

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A good attorney will urge a discharged employee to try to remember any problems she had at work. Any perceived unfairness then becomes part of the employee’s lawsuit. The more grievances, the more likely that at least some of the complaints will make it to court, even if other claims are tossed out.

That’s one more reason to deal immediately with workplace problems that crop up—such as claims of a hostile work environment, based on race, sex or some other protected characteristic.

Respond to all such any complaints right away. Make spot in-spections for graffiti and offensive postings. Provide management training on how to create a pleasant, harassment-free workplace.

Recent case: Cassandra, who is black, went to work for Volunteers of America as a manager. She earned a promotion shortly after starting. Then someone alleged she was padding her hours.

Cassandra was suspended pending an investigation. Management concluded it couldn’t show she cheated, but did note she hadn’t followed proper time sheet procedures. Investigators also determined that she had disobeyed orders not to talk to anyone during her suspension and had misused her employer-issued cellphone. She was demoted.

Cassandra sued, alleging race discrimination in her demotion and also alleging she had worked in a racially hostile work environment.

She said that the N-word was used nearly every day and that supervisors often commented on how they hated to see a black man with a white woman. Plus, Cassandra said she heard supervisors call black women so “nasty,” “dumb” and “stupid” that black men had no choice but to “run to white women the way they do.” Other white supervisors commented that they would not let their daughters “anywhere near a black man.”

This was enough for the court to conclude that Cassandra’s racially hostile work environment case should go forward. That was true even though the court tossed out her race discrimination claim, reasoning that the employer had legitimate business reasons for demoting Cassandra. (Nichols v. Volunteers of America, No. 10-15889, 11th Cir., 2012)

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