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Is that harassment—Or just a personality clash?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

You can’t realistically guarantee a workplace that is completely free of conflict—no such utopia exists. But you must do all you can to eliminate illegal discrimination and harassment.

It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between a personality conflict and something more ominous, but it can be done.

Here’s how:
When an employee complains about alleged discrimination or harassment by a supervisor, take a careful look at what each person says is happening.

As the following case shows, sometimes just a poor working relationship—not discrimination—is the source of the problem. If that’s the case, decide whether the personality conflict is serious enough to warrant intervention. If not, no remedial action is required.

Recent case: Best Buy eliminated Ashlie Van Horn’s job in a restructuring. Van Horn, however, believed the company targeted her because she had complained about alleged sexual harassment during her initial training.

She claimed when she asked if the company dress code allowed women to wear skirts, her sales manager responded, “As long as I can see [up your skirt].” Best Buy moved Van Horn to a different department.

However she continued to complain about the incident every chance she got.

She was also a stickler for rules, reporting minor violations like co-workers who drank soft drinks on the sales floor. It got so bad that her new supervisor would announce, “HR! Game off!” when she entered a room and, “Game on!” when she left. She claimed this was retaliation for her earlier complaint.

The court disagreed, instead interpreting the comments as simply an indication Van Horn and her boss couldn’t agree on rule enforcement. It dismissed the case because there was no obvious connection between the resolved sexual harassment complaint and this supervisor’s attitude toward Van Horn. (Van Horn v. Best Buy Stores, No. 07-2677, 8th Cir., 2008)

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