Sometimes, employees who fail to get promoted get it into their heads that they are being discriminated against when that’s simply not the case. If a discrimination complaint follows, managers and supervisors may begin subconsciously to treat the employee like a troublemaker, finding reasons to deny future promotions. That can lead to a lawsuit.
A better approach is to make sure the manager or supervisor who handles the employee’s next promotion request doesn’t know about the previous complaints. Then he or she won’t be “tainted” with knowledge of prior complaints—and therefore won’t be in a position to retaliate.
Recent case: Morrell Dooley, a 59-year-old black woman, worked as a sales representative for pharmaceutical maker Hoffmann-La Roche for many years. Over several years, she applied for four open positions as an oncology specialist. After being rejected three times, she complained to HR that she suspected either her race or her age was a factor.
The HR office investigated and found no discrimination. Dooley then applied for a fourth oncology specialist opening. This time the company passed her over again, choosing instead a younger black female. Dooley sued, alleging among other things that her fourth promotion request had been denied in retaliation for complaining about the first three missed opportunities.
But in court, Hoffmann-La Roche’s HR representative pointed out that the person making the fourth decision hadn’t known about Dooley’s other applications or about her previous discrimination complaints. Because Dooley didn’t have any other convincing or direct evidence of discrimination, the court tossed out her claims. (Dooley v. Roche Labs, No. 07-1771, 3rd Cir., 2008)
Final note: Take steps to make sure that discrimination complaints don’t become common knowledge. Only those who need to know should know. Limit your investigation to those directly involved.
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