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Employee complained in the past? Keep that info from new supervisor

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Here’s an easy way to stop retaliation lawsuits: If an employee has complained in the past about harassment, discrimination or other legal wrongs, make sure that information stays confidential.

Don’t even think of mentioning the complaints to new supervisors or when discussing the employee’s future with the company. That could be enough to support a retaliation lawsuit.

Recent case: Linda worked as an HR director for an international company. She complained that her direct supervisor grabbed her buttocks and breasts, sent her inappropriate emails, solicited sex and otherwise sexually harassed her.

She first complained to the company’s in-house attorney and then through its ethics hotline. The supervisor eventually resigned, but not before demoting Linda. The employer denied that the manager had harassed Linda.

Meanwhile, the company hired a new HR director, who was briefed on Linda’s ethics complaint. She concluded that Linda and another woman who had also filed a complaint were the department’s worst performers and had no place in the reorganized HR office. They were fired.

Linda sued, alleging retaliation for her ethics complaint.

The court said her claim could go forward, based in part on the fact that both terminated employees had filed ethics complaints. (Petrulio v. Tele­­flex, No. 12-7187, ED PA, 2014)

Final note: The company also argued that because the new HR director was a woman, she couldn’t be guilty of sex discrimination. The court wasted no time indulging that argument.

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