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Equal opportunity discipline: Don’t let rogue bosses subvert your anti-harassment policy

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Firing,Human Resources

If you set rules for employees to follow, then make sure everyone in the organization follows them. That includes supervisors.

Otherwise, your policies aren’t worth the paper they are written on—and won’t offer much legal protection.

Recent case: James was a supervisor at Cablevision, managing six other supervisors and directing training at his location. Cablevision has a robust anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy it requires all employees follow.

James first got in hot water when he commented on how good an em­­ployee looked in jeans. He was warned that such comments were in­­ap­­pro­­pri­­ate and was retrained. Then a former employee complained that James had mimicked her foreign accent. Cable­­vision admonished him again.

Then James called two of his sub­­ordinates into his office and told them he wanted to show them some­­thing funny. It was a video of a comedy routine performed by a comedian who calls herself an “equal oppor­tunity offender.” Seconds into the video, she was ­making fun of blacks and others. The sketch lasted six minutes.

When a subordinate complained, James was terminated. He sued, alleging he had been discriminated against.

The court didn’t buy it, pointing out that Cablevision had been generously patient with James. In fact, it could have terminated him after the first or second incident. The judge emphasized that supervisors set the tone at the workplace and must follow the rules if subordinates are expected to. (Humphreys v. Cablevision Systems, No. 10-4737, ED NY, 2012)

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