Count on being sued if you fire employee who has complained about harassment

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some things in life are certain. Like death and taxes, litigation follow­ing a firing after a discrimination complaint will happen.

The reason: Judges are reluctant to toss out retaliation claims without first hearing all the evidence.

That’s why it’s crucial for employers to have rock solid reasons they can readily explain for firing an em­­ployee who has complained.

Recent case: Vicky worked for a liquor company for 28 years until she was fired after using up all her accumulated leave for mental health treatment. Shortly before her discharge, Vicky filed an EEOC sexual harassment and discrimination complaint and made a workers’ compensation claim.

Vicky’s complaints outlined what she called 28 years of almost constant sexual harassment and intimidation. She claimed various supervisors had tied promotions and good reviews to requests for sexual favors. She said that she had woken up after being intoxicated to find a supervisor close by and herself undressed. She claimed she had been forced to perform oral sex at work.

Vicky’s workers’ compensation case was dismissed after co-workers testified that she never complained about sexual harassment and supervisors denied any harassment or sexual activity.

But that wasn’t good enough for the federal court hearing her retaliation complaint. It said the case should proceed, with each side required to provide testimony about the alleged harassment and the em­­ployer having to explain exactly why it fired Vicky so soon after she filed her EEOC complaint. (Sloth v. Constellation Brands, et al., No. 11-CV-6041, WD NY, 2013)

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