Calm is key when handling chronic complainers

Some employees are natural complainers. They can and will find something to gripe about, no matter what.

If one of your employees fits that mold and files incessant EEOC or internal complaints, how you handle those can mean the difference between a mildly annoying pain in the neck and a lost lawsuit.

How? Chances are, chronic complainers won’t be able to make a solid case that they’ve suffered discrimination. But if you decide to punish her, she may have a retaliation lawsuit.

Solution: React calmly to any complaints. Process them as you would any other—and don’t play into her hands. In addition, warn her bosses against taking any of it personally.

Recent case: Sharon Finizie is a nurse who has worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) since the late 1970s. She describes herself as someone whose discrimination complaint activity is “legendary,” “tenacious” and “unrelenting.” Finizie has testified on behalf of other employees and has filed many discrimination complaints herself.

Wisely, the VA has reacted to her activities in a calm and professional way, apparently accepting her litigiousness as the way things are.

In her latest lawsuit, Finizie claimed she had been denied a timely promotion in retaliation for all her previous complaints. She said the VA listed her job as “temporary” in order to delay her promotion for almost a year.

But the VA showed the court that the real reason the promotion was delayed was that it did not have clearance from higher up in the organization to make the position permanent for that year. That, concluded the court, meant that the delay wasn’t punishment, but merely a bureaucratic problem.  No one personally involved with Finizie had anything to do with the delay. (Finizie v. Shineski, No. 08-2835, 3rd Cir., 2009)