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Document all efforts to investigate complaints

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

One of the best ways to show you took a harassment or discrimination complaint seriously is to come up with figures quantifying your efforts to resolve it. A critical step: logging the number of hours you spent investigating claims, along with a detailed account of all the other steps you took.

Recent case: Deborah Wood, who is black, took a job as a systems analyst at a large university. She was the only woman and the only black employee in her section.

A few years into the job, Wood became convinced that someone was tampering with her office computer. She complained to her supervisor that the keyboard and mouse behaved strangely and said someone must have been accessing her computer remotely. Plus, she said the number “666” appeared on her office calculator “thousands of times.”

The university placed a lock on Wood’s office door, installed software to monitor her computer’s usage and reviewed who had had access to it. Plus, it logged network activity. IT staff found nothing amiss.

Wood didn’t believe the investigation was sufficient and complained to HR, which spent more than 150 hours trying to see if the initial investigation had overlooked anything. It reached the same conclusion IT did.

Wood said the efforts were still inadequate and complained to the EEOC, alleging sex discrimination and a hostile environment. Apparently she believed she was being targeted for computer tampering because of her sex.

Meanwhile, the university lost significant grant funding and laid off 17 employees, including Wood. She sued.

The court dismissed her case, noting the hours spent investigating her tampering claims. The court said that even if her allegations were true, there was no evidence such conduct would be sex-related. (Wood v. University of Pittsburgh, No. 09-4469, 3rd Cir., 2010)

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