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Tell harassment victims: Report any retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Even an exhaustive investigation into sexual harassment allegations may not provide enough information to conclusively determine whether harassment actually occurred.

Just because you decide not to act on the matter doesn’t mean you can forget the whole thing.

Instead, you must explain to the employee who reported the problem what steps you did take. And you must urge her to report any action she believes is retaliation. If anyone retaliates against her, you need to know about it right away.

Obvious retaliation can and should constitute an independent reason to discharge the alleged perpetrator.

Recent case: Robert Taylor, who is black, worked as a sterilization technician at Seton Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. A co-worker told managers that Taylor had bitten her on her buttocks while they were in an operating room. Taylor denied the charges and said he simply had been kneeling when the co-worker backed into his face.

Because no one else in the room could describe exactly what had happened, the hospital didn’t terminate Taylor. It did ask him to transfer to another position away from the co-worker, with no loss of pay or benefits.

Then the co-worker reported that Taylor yelled expletives at her in the parking lot. This time, there was a witness. Plus, security cameras captured the confrontation. Taylor was terminated.

He sued for race discrimination. He claimed that the initial investigation into the alleged biting incident had been unfair because the investigator hadn’t interviewed a supposed witness.

But the court backed the hospital. It said Taylor hadn’t been fired for biting the co-worker, but for retaliating against her following her initial complaint. It was irrelevant whether he had in fact bitten her. That was a legitimate firing offense unrelated to race discrimination. (Taylor v. Seton Brackenridge Hospital, No. 08-51283, 5th Cir., 2009)

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