State and federal laws protect employees who file discrimination complaints from retaliation for making those complaints. That’s why it’s a good idea to make sure you carefully document any disciplinary moves that occur after an employee has complained of discrimination.
Make sure you can later explain, in detail, exactly why you did what you did.
Recent case: Rosetta Surrell, who is black, worked for the California Water Service. She was injured in an auto accident and had to take almost a year off. Although cleared for work, she took several medications. After Surrell returned to work, the utility rejected her for a promotion. She filed a union grievance based on alleged race discrimination.
Shortly after she filed the grievance, several managers observed that Surrell’s speech was slurred and she seemed to be impaired. The company asked Surrell to take a drug test, which showed prescription drugs in her system—plus evidence of marijuana use.
Surrell sued, claiming the drug test had been retaliation for filing the union grievance.
The court considered the company’s explanation about why it had asked Surrell to take the drug test and concluded the request was legitimate and reasonable. It ruled for the employer. (Surrell v. California Water Service, No. 06-15400, 9th Cir., 2008)
- Small employers: Always check to see if you're too small to be sued under Title VII
- Read EEOC complaint carefully: Employees can't later expand lawsuit
- Same offense, different discipline: Show why harsher punishment was warranted
- Conducting a do-it-yourself audit of your company policies
- A gray area: What to do when older workers start to coast