One of the best ways to sink a discrimination defense is to come off as defensive, angry and vengeful. That’s why you need to train all supervisors and managers on how to initially handle discrimination complaints.
Tell them that no matter how outrageous the complaint, the only proper response is to explain exactly how the employee should report what happened.
HR plays a crucial role in damage control. Prepare managers ahead of time by providing them with explicit instructions on handling discrimination complaints, including contact names, phone numbers and other crucial information. Tell them that under no circumstances should they discourage an employee’s complaint or try to handle it informally on their own.
Recent case: Timothy Foxx, who is black, worked as a police officer and always got excellent reviews. The department assigned Foxx a new partner who was rumored to have been fired from a previous job because of unspecified sexual misconduct.
Then Foxx’s wife started getting sexually explicit phone calls from the new officer. Foxx reported the incidents to his two supervisors. They reacted poorly, instructing him to keep the matter quiet. When Foxx and his wife sought a restraining order against his partner, one of the supervisors went ballistic—yelling and screaming at Foxx for hours.
Eventually the police department demoted Foxx, suspended him and ultimately fired him after Foxx filed an EEOC discrimination complaint.
He sued for discrimination and retaliation, and the court refused to dismiss the case. It reasoned that there was plenty of evidence from which a jury could conclude that Foxx had suffered discrimination and had been punished for complaining about a fellow officer’s sexual harassment. The employer is also on the hook for negligent supervision and other state claims. (Foxx v. Town of Fletcher, No. 1:07-CV-336, WD NC, 2008)
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