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Complaint? Warn boss against adverse action

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Don’t let your organization fall into the retaliation trap. Make sure all supervisors understand that nothing should change for an employee after he files a discrimination complaint without prior approval from HR. Then, act only if it’s clear the proposed action has nothing to do with the complaint.

Recent case: Jonathon, who is black, was a police officer for the Oakland Unified School District. While on patrol, he and his partner participated in a traffic stop. The other officer wound up firing several shots at a passenger, who died. Jonathon and his partner had differing versions of what had happened.

A few months later, the police chief allegedly went on a racist rant in which he called Jonathon the N-word and disparaged blacks and Asians. The chief allegedly repeated this behavior a month later.

Jonathon had enough and filed a written complaint. The chief was then placed on administrative leave. Jonathon’s partner was appointed interim chief—and he almost immediately demoted Jonathon.

Jonathon sued, alleging that he had been demoted for complaining about the now former police chief’s behavior. He also claimed to have been targeted because his version of the shooting incident didn’t square with the interim chief’s version. In fact, Jonathon said he was told he would face an internal investigation over the shooting, since he wasn’t willing to back up the official version of events.

The court said Jonathon’s case could go forward, based on the demotion’s timing coming so closely after he filed his complaint.

It also said that he had a whistle-blower case, based on his right to free speech when countering the official explanation of the shooting incident. (Bellusa v. Board of Education, No. C-13-2930, ND CA, 2013)

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