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Make it easy for courts to see your side–investigate thoroughly before disciplining

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law

Courts don’t expect employers to set up the equivalent of a judicial system for disciplining employees. They just want to see a reasonable effort to ferret out the truth.

Recent case: Billie Joe Richards worked as a bus driver for the Centre Area Transportation Authority. She had a tumultuous run.

First, she filed a sexual harassment complaint against her supervisor, which was finally dismissed five years later.

Shortly after, the authority suspended her with pay while investigating several reports of behavior unacceptable in the workplace. Meanwhile, the day before the suspension was to start, Richards notified the authority she intended to file another sexual harassment complaint.

The employer then took two weeks to investigate claims that Richards had yelled at co-workers and customers, threatened them and made inappropriate comments over the radio. It interviewed witnesses, followed up on leads and concluded the allegations were true. Richards was terminated.

She sued for retaliation, claiming she was fired for complaining about harassment.

But the court said she had no evidence to show the real reason wasn’t what the authority claimed—poor behavior. (Richards v. Centre Area Transportation Authority, No. 10-1586, 3rd Cir., 2011)

Final note: Remember, courts want to believe employers act reasonably. By showing them you conducted a reasonable investigation aimed at making a good business decision, chances are the case will be dismissed.

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