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Objective promotion process makes retaliation claim harder

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Imagine how awkward it would be to have an employee sue her employer and then stay on the job. There’s a real danger that the worker will become supersensitive to workplace slights. She may think every comment is meant to punish her for the lawsuit—and that every thwarted promotion request is direct retaliation.

Protect your organization from retaliation charges by making extra sure you can substantiate all later decisions with solid, objective evidence. For example, document that you based promotion decisions on criteria that went beyond whether or not someone’s supervisor supported the employee’s advancement. Be able to show concrete reasons why the employee wasn’t ready for promotion.

Recent case: Linette Metzger worked for the Illinois State Police as an administrative assistant. She unsuccessfully sued for sex discrimination, whistle-blower violations and the denial of her First Amendment rights.

Later, Metzger got it in her head that she should be reclassified to a higher grade and promoted into an administrator role. Her boss refused to approve the reclassification. Metzger then requested that a separate state agency conduct a desk audit, reviewing her job. She also filed a retaliation complaint.

Metzger’s boss apparently told the other agency that he could not support Metzger’s claims, and said her view of her job’s responsibilities were “grandiose.” The agency conducted the audit and compared Metzger’s duties with similar jobs at other agencies. It concluded she was properly classified. Metzger then added another retaliation claim to her lawsuit.

The trial court threw out her case, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal. It said that since the agency used objective evidence to deny the reclassification (by comparing her job to other jobs) and did not rely on her boss’s assessment of Metzger, nothing the boss said amounted to retaliation.

The court noted that employees sometimes have to be thick-skinned. No reasonable employee would be dissuaded from complaining about alleged discrimination (that’s the test for retaliation) just because her boss might later show some animosity after objective decisions had been made. (Metzger v. Illinois State Police, No. 06-3251, 7th Cir., 2008)

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