Manager files complaint on behalf of subordinates? That’s protected activity

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Don’t assume that just because a manager is in charge of subordinates and champions their discrimination complaints as part of her job, she isn’t engaged in protected activity. It probably is, and any action you take against her can be the basis for a retaliation lawsuit.

Recent case: Elizabeth was a manager for a Pennsylvania agency. When she was hired, she learned that her predecessor had retired following accusations he had sexually harassed subordinates. Elizabeth’s subordinates complained to her that they felt they were being punished for their in­­volve­­ment in the harassment case.

Plus, Elizabeth prepared a recommendation about alleged sexual harassment by others in the agency and suggested having the alleged harassers undergo training about retaliation. She reported both the retaliation and her recommendations to her supervisor. The recommendation was rejected and she was ordered to shred her report.

Soon after, Elizabeth’s boss told her that she had 30 days to find another job. She then went out on FMLA leave to care for her mother. By the time she returned, she had another job lined up.

Then she sued, alleging among other claims that she had been threatened with discharge for engaging in protected activity.

The agency argued that Elizabeth was merely doing her job when she reported the alleged retaliation and recommended training in the second harassment case.

The court disagreed and said her actions were protected. It allowed her retaliation case to move forward. (Shenk v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 1:11-CV-1238, MD PA, 2013)

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