How much effort should the HR office put into getting everyone to get along? Much depends on how much the organization values cooperation and a team ethic. The best approach is to let employees handle most social conflicts among themselves—as long as there are no overt signs of discrimination.
Recent case: Carolyn Russell, who is black, worked for the state of Ohio, Department of Administrative Services since 1962. It would be fair to say that she did not rise far in the administration, although she did work in several different positions. After more than 30 years, Russell claimed that the real reason she had so few promotions was her race. She asked for an internal investigation into her lack of career progress.
The reason quickly became apparent: It turned out that Russell never applied for many promotions she might have qualified for.
Following the investigation, several of her co-workers started avoiding her. They never did anything blatant, such as harass her or make uncivil comments—they merely excluded her from the small social occasions and interactions that can make a workplace pleasant.
Russell sued, alleging the ostracism was retaliation for her race discrimination complaint.
The court threw out her claim, writing that while Russell may have had “a number of disappointing, negative and even unfair experiences in her workplace,” she had done nothing to show that these were based on race or any other characteristic. The court said that what Russell described was mild and certainly not “physically threatening or humiliating.” In other words, she should have developed a thicker skin when it came to interpersonal relationships. (Russell v. State of Ohio, Department of Administrative Services, No. 07-3808, 6th Cir., 2008)
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