Employees who suspect they are facing discipline sometimes think they can stop the process by complaining about some form of alleged discrimination. At the very least, they reason, they can claim they suffered retaliation for reporting discrimination.
Smart employers keep careful records showing the internal timeline for all employment decisions. That way, they can later show that a complaint didn’t cause retaliation, since the employment decision was already in the works before the complaint came in.
Recent case: Angela worked for Verizon Wireless and earned steady promotions, even though she sometimes groused to her supervisor about the lack of opportunities. Angela also bought several cellphones through an employee purchase program. They were supposed to be activated in the employee’s name. Instead, she used her work computer to sell them on eBay for a tidy profit.
HR began investigating the transactions because selling the phones violated company policy. During the investigation—which was clearly documented with time stamps showing when it began, how it was progressing and what the final decision was—Angela went to HR for the first time and filed several sex bias complaints.
After Verizon finished its investigation, it terminated Angela for violating company policies and for using her computer at work on work time for personal benefit. The actual termination was delayed because of scheduled vacations, but the decision had been made earlier. The final report pointed out that others who sold their phones had also been terminated.
Angela sued, alleging retaliation.
But the court tossed out her case because Verizon convincingly showed it had already begun its investigation into wrongdoing and had actually made the termination decision before Angela ever went to HR. (Spain v. Verizon Wireless, No. 3:10-CV-139, WD NC, 2012)