Speedway SuperAmerica, the Enon-based convenience store chain, won a recent sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit by a former cashier in a West Virginia store. The cashier alleged that she endured repeated sexual harassment by a co-worker. Shortly after complaining, she came up $200 short on her cash register. The company did not accuse her of stealing, but fired her.
In court, Speedway conceded the harassment, but produced evidence that immediately after receiving the cashier’s complaint, it started an investigation and took disciplinary action against the alleged harasser. The company also produced a longstanding written policy—which the plaintiff had signed—that prescribed termination for any large, unexplained cash shortages.
Two important lessons: First, having clearly stated policies that define prohibited conduct helps to show that a discharge was based on performance, rather than retaliation. (It helps if you also can prove the employee knew of the policy.) Second, having a sexual harassment policy that calls for an immediate investigation when an employee says he or she has been sexually harassed shows you mean business. That will cut potential liability.