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Even ‘indirect’ victims of bias can sue

New ruling expands the pool of potential plaintiffs

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources

Women mailroom clerks at several New York newspapers sued their companies, claiming discrimination in hiring and promotions. The women said the firms manipulated their hiring priority lists by routinely stopping any hiring when they reached a woman's name.

Key point: The court also allowed a group of men who were denied jobs to join in the lawsuit, saying those men were "indirectly" discriminated against because their names appeared below the female employees on the list. The men weren't targets of discrimination, the court admitted, but they were allowed to sue because they got caught in the collateral damage.

The 3rd Circuit said indirect victims of bias can sue as long as their injuries "are traceable to acts or omissions" by a company that are illegal under Title VII. (Anjelino v. The New York Times Co., No. 98-6024, 3d Cir., 1999)

Advice: If you needed a wake-up call to start taking anti-discrimination measures seriously, this is it. The case dramatically heightens your risk in bias cases by expanding the range of potential plaintiffs to include workers who were "indirectly" affected.

When making any employment decision, you must now consider whether it might discriminate against anyone, even those indirectly involved. Also, now's a good time to redistribute your anti-discrimination policy and train managers to be aware of potential liabilities.

In the same way, courts have ruled that indirect victims of harassment also can sue. For example, a female employee sued and won after she merely witnessed co-workers being harassed and management did nothing.

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