Investigative finger points back at accuser? It’s OK to fire

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

Sometimes, a sexual harassment or other discrimination complaint ends up revealing more about the person complaining than it does about the alleged offense.

If you conduct a fair, impartial and prompt investigation and discover that the problem is with the person making the complaint, you can take action. Just make sure you are certain the underlying complaint lacks merit—or that you resolve it.

Recent case: Cheryl Allen worked as a salesperson for a Value City Furniture store. She told the regional HR officer that the warehouse manager had harassed her. Allen claimed the manager asked her out to a “candlelight dinner.” She said when she refused, he damaged some furniture about to be delivered to a customer so she would lose that sale’s commission.

HR investigated Allen’s claims and concluded that no harassment had occurred, although it recommended sexual harassment training. The investigation did uncover problems with a co-worker—who was fired.

But other co-workers told the investigators that Allen herself was a problem. She allegedly stalked her fellow employees around the store and repeatedly questioned them about what they knew about her personal life.

She complained that management was having her followed, that somehow her co-workers could see into her bedroom and that they followed her car in black Suburbans.

Allen received a written warning for “spreading false rumors.” Value City ultimately fired her for the same reason. She sued, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her claims. It reasoned that the company had conducted a thorough and prompt investigation, uncovered wrongdoing on another employee’s part and fired that employee—and only then disciplined Allen for her own behavior. (Allen v. American Signature d.b.a. Value City Furniture, No. 07-3698, 7th Cir., 2008)

Leave a Comment