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Use hotline records to nail down complaints

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

A hotline makes it easy for employees to file complaints internally—and for you to keep track of the kinds of complaints they are making. That can come in handy later if there’s a dispute about when or about what an employee complained.

It’s especially important if the employee later claims she suffered retaliation for having filed a complaint. Hotline records can be credible evidence in court.

Recent case: Denyse sold investment products for PNC Bank. She is of mixed race (mainly Hispanic and black) and is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness.

Early on, it was clear Denyse wasn’t meeting her sales goals. She was placed on probation and eventually terminated for poor performance.

Denyse then sued, alleging retaliation for reporting what she believed was religious and racial discrimination.

According to her suit, the problem began when she refused to attend an employer-sponsored Halloween costume party. Denyse stayed away because it conflicted with her religious beliefs, although her supervisor assured her she wasn’t required to wear a costume and that the event wasn’t religious in any way. Denyse alleged that the supervisor said she was expected to attend because PNC had spent a good deal of money on the party and that it was an employee appreciation event.

PNC acknowledged that Denyse had placed a call to a PNC employee complaint hotline housed at the company’s Employee Relations Information Center.

In fact, the bank kept careful records of every call and produced Denyse’s—showing that she had never mentioned discrimination in the call.

The court took that as evidence that Denyse hadn’t engaged in protected activity when she called the hotline. Therefore, she couldn’t have suffered retaliation for reporting supposed religious discrimination. The court tossed out her lawsuit. (Morales v. PNC, No. 10-1368, ED PA, 2012)

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