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Independent investigation doesn’t have to be perfect

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

David Bennett and several co-workers, who were all over age 40, filed an internal age discrimination grievance, which was eventually resolved.

Shortly after, a female employee complained to management that she was receiving “dirty” poems. The HR department investigated and the woman mentioned Bennett as a possible suspect. A handwriting expert was called in to analyze the poems and said they matched Bennett’s writing. Confronted, Bennett denied he was the poet. But security searched his office and found other poetry. Bennett was fired.

He sued, alleging retaliation for filing the age discrimination grievance. An appeals court tossed out the case, reasoning that even if Bennett had not written the poems, as he claimed, the HR department reasonably believed he had and therefore fired him in good faith. (Bennett v. Saint-Gobain, et al., No. 07-1219, 1st Cir., 2007)

Advice: If you receive a discrimination complaint, conduct a prompt and thorough investigation. Then have an independent party decide on any discipline. If the investigation was independent and the decision-maker was not the same person who allegedly discriminated against the employee, it won’t matter if the decision-maker was wrong—just that he or she believed the reason was genuine.

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