When an employee claims discrimination, HR should make sure that employee isn’t retaliated against. But retaliation is more than lost promotions, discharge or demotions.
Retaliation can be any employer-initiated action that would deter a reasonable person from complaining.
That’s why it’s crucial for HR to let supervisors and managers know they shouldn’t change anything about the employee’s working conditions without HR approval.
As the following case shows, something as seemingly minor as assignment to an office with student interns can form the basis of a retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Lester Lee complained that he had been passed over for a promotion because he is black. Shortly after an arbitrator heard his case—and ruled in his favor for a reason other than race discrimination—Lee found himself relocated to an office to be shared with student interns. He sued, alleging retaliation. The trial court dismissed his case. But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit and sent it back for trial. It based its ruling on last year’s decision in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe v. White, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said anything that might dissuade a reasonable person from making or supporting a discrimination claim can be an adverse employment action and therefore retaliation. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Lee should have a chance to explain why he thought the office move was retaliation. (Lee v. Department of Veterans Affairs, No. 05-20909, 5th Cir., 2007)
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