When Michaels, a chain of arts-and-crafts stores headquartered in Irving, TX, transferred manager Daniel Zimmerman into its St. Augustine store, upperreceived numerous complaints from staff about his rudeness. Joseph Lewis, a floral designer suing the company for age and gender discrimination and retaliation, said employees began “dropping like flies” after Zimmerman joined the store.
Lewis, an experienced designer for the store, testified that Zimmerman told him floral design was “a woman’s job,” called him an “old faggot” and repeatedly made comments that he was “kind of old” to be doing that work. Lewis complained several times to the employee hotline.
Shortly after, Lewis says Zimmerman told him that “it wouldn’t do any good to keep calling the Michaels hotline.” That month, Zimmerman disciplined Lewis for being in the break room during work time.
The court granted summary judgment to Michaels on all discrimination counts, finding Zimmerman’s comments didn’t rise to the “intolerable” level required to show discrimination.
The comments were sufficient, however, to convince the court that Lewis’s harassment and discrimination complaints were made in good faith, and therefore constituted a protected activity. Since the discipline came within weeks of the hotline complaints, the court allowed the retaliation charges to proceed.
Note: An employee hotline that turns complaints over to the person under investigation seems disingenuous at best. It looks like Michaels has earned its day in court. Also, note that although Lewis didn’t have an age discrimination case, he did have a retaliation case.
Advice: Train all supervisors and managers to leave alone those employees who complain. Don’t single them out for negative treatment as a way to get even. It may backfire.
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