Petty slights and ostracism don’t add up to retaliation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Sometimes, it seems as if every employee who ever filed a complaint about real or imagined discrimination follows up with a retaliation lawsuit. Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court loosened the requirements for proving retaliation, lawyers have had a field day.

At least the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has begun reining in these lawsuits. It recently ruled that petty slights and personality conflicts that sometimes bubble up after an employee files discrimination charges aren’t always retaliation.

Recent case: Creighton University hired Roxana Recio, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Spanish origin, as an associate professor of Spanish. The university placed Recio on probation after another professor alleged that she had made sexually inappropriate statements. Recio completed her probation with no further problems.

Then she sued, alleging she had been placed on probation because of her national origin. Shortly after, she added a retaliation claim, alleging that after her initial lawsuit, other faculty members shunned her and her office was kept too cold.

She also claimed that her photo had not been included on the college web site while the photos of other members of the Spanish Department faculty were shown.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the co-worker “silent treatment” wasn’t serious enough to be retaliation. Nor were the thermostat setting and web site photo gallery. It dismissed Recio’s retaliation case. (Recio v. Creighton University, No. 07-2460, 8th Cir., 2008)
 
Final note: Of course, you don’t want to encourage managers and supervisors to develop an attitude with co-workers or subordinates. Still, it’s a good idea to adopt a civility rule that encourages a pleasant and low-stress workplace. While you can’t make people like each other, you can demand basic cooperation and polite language when communication is necessary.

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