In a perfect world, no one would ever utter a slur or make a derogatory comment. But this isn’t a perfect world, and employees come to work with emotional and cultural baggage.
It’s up HR to make sure that baggage doesn’t turn into a discrimination lawsuit.
Take, for example, a supervisor—recently emigrated from another country—who has a different attitude toward women. Perhaps he makes inappropriate offhand comments, overheard by subordinates, that make it clear he needs an attitude adjustment.
When that happens, it’s time for some serious cultural counseling, in the form of sexual harassment and discrimination training. Then be vigilant and make sure the supervisor’s decisions remain bias-free.
Recent case: Dr. Hedy Tasbas, a white woman, worked as a psychiatrist for a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. Several years ago, a new doctor was hired and became Tasbas’ supervisor. The new doctor had just emigrated from India, and apparently brought with him a negative attitude toward women. Twice, Tasbas heard him say he didn’t take directions from women. Once, he told a joke in which he referred to a female as a “bitch.”
Then Tasbas began getting criticism from her new supervisor. Eventually she sued, alleging her workplace was permeated with bias against white women.
Fortunately, the VA could show that Tasbas had , and that others agreed with her supervisor that she needed to improve.
The court tossed out her case, concluding that isolated comments weren’t enough to justify a sex discrimination and harassment lawsuit. The comments and joke happened early on and had stopped long before the supervisor began criticizing Tasbas’ work. (Tasbas v. Nicholson, No. 06-CV-6236, WD NY, 2009)
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