Here’s how routine discrimination claims turn ugly fast: A supervisor or manager gets it in her head that she’s going to punish an employee for complaining.
While it’s hard for employees to win most discrimination cases, it’s relatively easy for them to win retaliation claims. All an employee has to do is show that the retaliation would have dissuaded a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place. It doesn’t matter if the underlying discrimination complaint turns out to be unfounded.
HR must take the lead in preventing retaliation. Before taking any employment action against an employee who has raised discrimination concerns, double-check to make sure there’s no retaliation taking place.
Recent case: Carolyn Betton and four of her co-workers complained to their employer that they believed they were being discriminated against because of their race. Shortly after, the women were transferred to a different section and had some of their job duties changed.
The employer said it made the move because of seasonal changes in the workflow. But the women, who had worked for the employer for several years, had never been moved before. They sued, alleging retaliation.
The trial court dismissed their case, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated their lawsuit. The appeals court said the timing of the move and the fact that the women had never been moved before was enough potential evidence of retaliation to warrant a jury trial. (Betton, et al., v. St. Louis County, No. 07-1634, 8th Cir., 2009)
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