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OK to discipline, even after harassment claim

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When employees face progressive discipline and think they might be fired, they sometimes suddenly start complaining about alleged sexual harassment. The underlying reason may be legitimate—or it may just be a ploy to stop discipline.

It doesn’t mean all discipline has to be put on hold.

Recent case: Christine worked in a cubicle as a sales representative for Time Warner Cable, selling cable TV and data services. She was expected to sell $3,000 worth of services per month at first, and later at least $5,000. All employees had to meet their quotas or come very close. Those who did not were placed on progressive performance improvement plans that could eventually lead to termination.

Christine never met her quotas and was placed on a performance improvement plan.

That’s when she complained that her supervisor was sexually harassing her. She blamed him for her poor performance and low sales, claiming that he had intruded while she was trying to work in her cubicle. She said he reached down into her trash can to remove something, invading her personal space and once pulled back the top of her shirt to see a tattoo on her back.

The company investigated and concluded that the behavior, while perhaps bothersome, was not sex­­ual harassment. It then assigned her a different supervisor and ex­­tended her performance plan to give her more time to improve. She didn’t and was terminated.

Christine sued, alleging she was fired for reporting sexual harassment.

The court dismissed her case. It reasoned that the alleged conduct wasn’t severe and that it was clear the employer hadn’t punished her. In fact in went further than it had to, giving Christine additional time to improve once it finished its investigation. (Rivers v. Time Warner Cable, No. 3:11-CV-146, WD NC, 2012)

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