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Beware expanding EEOC investigation after employee complains about discrimination

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,Management Training

Take every internal discrimination complaint seriously—and take quick action, too.

Why? If the employee doesn’t think your response was adequate, an EEOC complaint will probably follow. And that can spell big trouble if the EEOC decides to expand its investigation beyond the specifics of the original complaint. Then, instead of dealing with a single employee, you may find yourself looking at a class action.

Recent case: Kim Milliren was accepted into a management training program with Schwan’s Home Service, a frozen food purveyor. Soon, Milliren complained that a male manager insisted on referring to her as “woman” and that other managers were e-mailing offensive material back and forth.

After Milliren complained, the training director told her she was not “demonstrating leadership skills” and that she wouldn’t graduate from the program.

No one with the company treated her complaints seriously, so she quit and then went to the EEOC.

The EEOC expanded its investigation to cover sex discrimination throughout the company’s training program. Then it issued subpoenas for detailed information on several employees.

Schwan’s asked to have the investigation scaled back to Milliren’s original sexual harassment complaint, but the court refused. The company will now face allegations it engaged in systemic sex discrimination. (EEOC v. Schwan’s Home Service, No. 09-84, DC MN, 2010)

Final note: Schwan’s could have short-circuited this lawsuit by taking Milliren’s complaints seriously and banning offensive communication.

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