Sometimes, employees who are having trouble at work think that filing EEOC complaints or lawsuits will save their jobs. It’s a ploy generally designed to paralyzeby raising the specter of a retaliation claim. But courts generally don’t hold it against an employer if it carries out a previously made discipline decision. A lawsuit or complaint doesn’t work like a cease-and-desist order.
Recent case: Connie Gantt sued the city of Forsyth after she was discharged for not doing her job. She had filed an EEOC complaint, alleging race discrimination as the reason she was passed over for promotion. In the year between the EEOC filing and the launch of her federal lawsuit, Gantt’s employer placed her on probation for not performing her job and finally fired her a day after the lawsuit was filed.
But the court said the timing alone was not suspicious—employers are allowed to continue on a disciplinary course even if their employees file EEOC complaints and federal lawsuits. (Gantt v. City of Forsyth, No. 5:06-CV-400, MD GA, 2007)
Final note: Of course, you want to make certain that the decision you made in the first place is legitimate and not tainted by discrimination. If you conduct an independent investigation and conclude the employee deserves the discipline, go ahead and discipline. When in doubt, an experienced employment law attorney can help you make the call.