Management commits gross bias error? Fast action can stop employee’s lawsuit

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Sometimes, supervisors make dumb mistakes—for example, telling an employee that she won’t be transferred to another office because the people there don’t like co-workers of her ethnicity.

If you learn of such bone-­headedness, fix the problem fast. That could stop a costly lawsuit.

Recent case: Tomoko is of Japa­­nese ancestry. She worked for a Japa­­nese company in its Pennsylvania office. When management decided to close the office, it also decided not to transfer Tomoko to Detroit. She asked why. Her supervisor said the office didn’t want someone of Japa­­nese ancestry working there.

Tomoko began looking for another job. Meanwhile, the company apparently decided it wasn’t smart to so nakedly admit to bias. It offered Tomoko the Detroit job, but she refused, quit and sued for discrimination.

The trial court dismissed her case, reasoning that she hadn’t been harmed and therefore couldn’t sue for national-origin or race discrimination. She appealed, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the lawsuit. It, too, reasoned she had suffered no harm. (Fubayama v. Nichia American, et al., No. 11-2330, 3rd Cir., 2012)

Final note: If someone in your organization messes up like this, immediately set about repairing the damage. Then train supervisors on their equal employment opportunity obligations. You may also want to review recent employment decisions to make sure prejudice hasn’t played a part in discipline, hiring or discharge.

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