While HR professionals certainly should strive to create a respectful, courteous and pleasant workplace, don’t worry too much if you fall short.
The fact is, supervisors sometimes play favorites and exhibit questionable judgment.
As long as those transgressions have nothing to do with an employee’s protected characteristics, you’ll be safe from any discrimination lawsuit that follows. To win in court, workers have to show that their supervisor wasn’t just petty, but also targeted them because of a protected characteristic.
Recent case: Larry and Alan, who are black, worked for a state mental health facility as security guards. They filed rambling EEOC complaints and then a lawsuit in which they provided a long narrative account of unfair treatment at the hands of their supervisor. For example, they claimed that their boss unfairly gave his own son, who also worked there, the plum assignments and schedules.
But neither man could show that the assignments or schedules were very different than the assignments of other similarly situated co-workers. In other words, while the supervisor may have sometimes favored his son, he didn’t disfavor other workers based on their race. Everyone suffered because of the supervisor’s nepotism and pettiness, not just black employees.
The court said that, while that was unfair, it wasn’t grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. (Edwards, et al., v. DSH, et al., No. 1-13-CV-0105, ED CA, 2014)
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