Employees who file discrimination complaints are protected from retaliation. That doesn’t mean they’re immune from being punished if they break rules. Employers can and should take appropriate disciplinary action against them.
The key is a careful and deliberate approach, devoid of emotion.
In fact, the longer the time between the employee’s discrimination complaint and your disciplinary action against her, the less likely she will be able to successfully charge retaliation.
And if you document every step of the process and can prove your disciplinary decision was legitimate and reasonable, you have little to worry about.
Recent case: Rhodora Blanks was terminated from her post office job and filed an EEOC complaint. The agency agreed she had been discriminated against and directed the post office to reinstate her.
Blanks went back to work and then suffered a series of on-the-job injuries that kept her off work for long periods of time. Over the next two years, she turned down a number of light-duty positions she was offered, pending the final decision on several workers’ compensation claims. Finally, after Blanks’ last claim was dismissed, the post office terminated her for attendance problems.
She sued, alleging retaliation because of the EEOC claim she made two years earlier.
But the court tossed out her claim. It said the passage of time and the employer’s clear record of offering light-duty positions showed there wasn’t a connection between her winning EEOC complaint and her later termination. (Blanks v. Potter, No. 06-CV-01976, DC CO, 2008)
Advice: After an employee has made a discrimination complaint, consider giving everyone a fresh start by assigning her to a new supervisor who doesn’t know the history. That makes it less likely that anger or resentment will lead to a retaliation lawsuit.