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When employee complains years later, look for prior gripes

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Sometimes, employees claim they didn’t dare complain about alleged discrimination or a hostile work environment until years after the fact. To explain the delay, they may say that they were scared to complain.

That’s when you should check for prior complaints. If there are any, the fact that they complained earlier can be used to show they couldn’t have been all that afraid.

Recent case: Royston Ho-a-Lim, a Hispanic Muslim, lost his job as a police officer after he refused to follow an order. He sued, alleging he had been forced for years to work in an environment hostile to Muslims but feared coming forward.

But his employer cast doubt on the timing of his suit. It showed he had complained before to his supervisor about hostility to Hispanics—and the problem had been fixed. That, said the court, was evidence he hadn’t feared complaining. (Ho-a-Lim v. Cuyahoga Community College, No. 1:08-CV-1200, ND OH, 2009)

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