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Don’t blacklist worker who quits after complaining

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Management may breathe a sigh of relief if an employee quits after alleging some form of harassment or discrimination and then doesn’t march to the nearest courthouse right away. But before they thank their lucky stars, consider this: The former employee may show up years later, looking for a job—and a retaliation lawsuit.

The following case shows why hiring managers must never refuse to consider a former employee who complained before quitting.

Recent case: Margaret Templeton quit her bank job after complaining about sexual harassment and management’s failure to respond to her complaint. Then, more than two years later, she reapplied for an open position.

Someone in management suggested not rehiring Templeton because she had “issues with management.” Tem­ple­­ton then sued, alleging retaliation for her earlier harassment complaints.

The bank initially got the case dismissed on the premise that too much time had passed since her initial com­­plaint to argue that she had experienced retaliation. But Templeton appealed.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said what counts is not how much time has passed since the original complaint, but what the employer did when it had the opportunity to punish the employee. It then reasoned that the bank was not in a position to punish Templeton until she reapplied more than two years later. Her new application was the first chance to get back at her. And because she could show that the bank thought she shouldn’t be hired for “issues with management,” the case should go to trial.

A jury will now determine whether the bank declined to hire Templeton because of her earlier sexual harassment complaints. (Tem­pleton v. First Tennessee Bank, et al., No. 10-1753, 4th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Remind hiring managers that past complaints against the company don’t bar ­re-employment.

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