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Your old org charts can help you prevent new lawsuits

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Memories fade and employees come and go.

That’s why it’s crucial to retain certain records for future reference. Among the records you should keep forever are past organizational charts that show who had supervisory authority over other employees. As this case shows, they can come in handy in court.

Case in Point: Stephanie Goebelbecker filed a sex discrimination lawsuit, arguing that she was constantly passed over for promotions. Her smoking-gun evidence: She claimed her supervisor told her that she’d never be promoted because she is a woman.

The company’s response: That “supervisor” was not a supervisor at all. The company argued that the man who made the anti-woman remark really had no supervisory authority over Goebelbecker. So his comment couldn’t be used as evidence of job bias.

To prove its point, the company produced an organizational chart that showed no supervisory relationship. The problem: the org chart was dated Dec. 27, 2006. The year in question was 2002. The company didn’t retain its previous org charts. (Goebelbecker v. Plastipak Packaging, No. 1:06-CV-576, ND OH, 2007)

How did this case end … and what lessons can be learned?

In addition to the chart being outdated, the court noted other discrepancies with it. Therefore, the court ignored the chart as evidence of a lack of the supervisory authority. Despite this goof, the company still lucked out. The court dismissed Goebelbecker’s case for other unrelated reasons.

Still, those two big mistakes—a dumb comment by a supervisor and failure to retain old org charts—forced the company to spend more time and money than necessary to defend the case.

Lessons Learned … Without Going to Court

Lawsuits over lost promotions or firings can take years before they actually go to trial, even if employees have a relatively short time frame in which to make their original claims.

And because litigation often centers on work relationships and reporting authority, keeping old org charts can be helpful. It helps answer questions like: Was the person who allegedly discriminated or harassed employee a subordinate or a supervisor? Did that person have a significant say in promotions, demotions or firings?

Without clear records, you may not be able to explain to a court who was actually in charge and who was not.

Best bet: Print a dated copy of the organizational chart each time it is updated, and file the copy (electronically and in paper format).

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