Here’s a reason to slow down and act deliberately when disciplining an employee who has filed an EEOC complaint: A court has concluded that coincidental timing alone can be enough to keep a case alive.
That’s true even if it turns out that all the accusations in the EEOC complaint turn out to be unfounded.
Recent case: Eloise Hanks, who is black, worked as a registered nurse for the Department of Veteran Affairs for almost 28 years. When she got a new supervisor, things began to deteriorate.
Hanks thought the reason might be her race or age, so she filed an EEOC complaint. Then, days later, she was told she could either resign (and keep her pension) or be fired.
Hanks resigned—and then sued for age and race discrimination, plus retaliation.
The court tossed out her discrimination claims, saying she couldn’t tie her problems with the new supervisor to either race or age bias. But the court refused to dismiss the retaliation claim, reasoning that the close timing of her EEOC complaint and forced resignation was enough to send the case to trial. (Hanks v. Shinseki, No. 3:08-CV-1594, ND TX, 2009)
Final note: Remind supervisors that any hint of retaliation after a discrimination complaint is dangerous—and could lead to costly litigation. If you must fire the employee right after she files a complaint, make sure the reason is rock solid, and that you document it well. HR should review any proposed action.
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