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Following harassment complaint, changing supervisors can cut liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

While no employer should condone any form of workplace harassment, it isn’t always necessary to terminate the alleged harasser. After all, sometimes it may be a matter of “he said/she said,” making it tough to sort out what really happened. That’s likely if there are no witnesses.

In those cases, the best move may be to separate the parties. If one is a supervisor, get that person out of the alleged harassment victim’s chain of command. They probably will never see eye to eye again. Plus, providing a new supervisor and a fresh start may cut liability if the employee later decides to sue.

Recent case: Erol Sobutay, who is from Istanbul and is of Arabic and Hispanic heritage, claimed over a six-year period that his supervisor uttered three ethnic slurs aimed at his mixed heritage. After Sobutay complained, the company concluded the supervisor’s behavior, if true, didn’t amount to national origin discrimination.

But to make sure there was no further opportunity for trouble, the company brought in a different supervisor. Sobutay had no problems with him—the two got along well and Sobutay’s work improved.

Still, Sobutay sued for a hostile work environment. The court tossed out his case. It said that three incidents over six years were not enough, plus the company provided Sobutay with a new supervisor. (Sobutay v. Intermet International, No. 4:06-CV-87, MD GA, 2007)

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