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Solid policy, prompt responses to bias complaints can prevent lawsuits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

New York state law prohibits discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Employers can protect themselves from needless discrimination lawsuits by introducing a robust anti-discrimination policy and a clear and effective process for resolving complaints.

Acting fast is the key and may save your organization from a future discrimination claim if you can show you took an earlier complaint seriously.

Recent case: Mark Taylor worked for the New York University Medical Center. When a biography about Leonard Bernstein came out that implied the conductor and Taylor may have had a personal relationship, one of the managers who worked with Taylor (but did not supervise him) made unkind, seemingly anti-gay comments.

Taylor complained to HR, as the hospital’s anti-discrimination policy recommended. Almost immediately, the manager was called to task. The hospital counseled the manager and told Taylor to report any further problems. He never did.

The hospital terminated Taylor two years later in what it said was a cost-cutting move. Taylor believed the real reason was anti-gay sentiment, and he sued, contending the manager had persuaded higher-ups to fire him.

A jury agreed and awarded Taylor over $600,000. The hospital appealed, arguing there was no evidence connecting the manager’s earlier comments to the discharge.

The appeals court agreed with the hospital and threw out the jury verdict. It said the hospital had shown it took discrimination claims seriously by acting fast, and there was no evidence connecting that earlier incident with the later reduction in force. (Taylor v. New York University Medical Center, No. 570594/06, Supreme Court of New York Appellate Term, 2008)

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