Don’t think that just because an employee has filed an internal or EEOC discrimination complaint, you have to treat him with kid gloves. You can and should manage the employee just like you would any other staff member.
Rest assured, issuing a reprimand or other mild disciplinary actions isn’t enough to support a retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Robert Spencer, who worked for the city of Hollywood, identifies himself as an “American male.” He applied for a promotion and didn’t like it when an Indian female was promoted and became his supervisor.
He then filed a sex- and national-origin discrimination complaint.
Shortly after, he was issued a written reprimand for insubordination—he admitted using profanity when addressing his new supervisor.
He then sued for retaliation, arguing that the reprimand was an adverse employment action.
The court rejected his claim. It said a reprimand that doesn’t lead to any tangible negative action (such as demotion, pay cut or termination) isn’t an adverse employment action. The court concluded that no reasonable employee would be afraid to report discrimination out of fear it would mean a reprimand. (Spencer v. City of Hollywood, No. 08-60028, SD FL, 2009)
Final note: The court had no difficulty with concluding that someone who identifies himself as “American male” can be a member of a protected class. “American” is a national origin, entitled to protection, too. The bottom line is that there are no employees who don’t fit into some protected classification.
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