Even if an internal discrimination complaint proves unfounded, you must still ensure that the employee who complained isn’t punished for doing so. Remind supervisors and the employee that you won’t tolerate any type of retaliation.
Then ask the employee to report any problems. If she does raise potential retaliation, fix the problem right away.
Recent case: Shirley, who is black, complained internally that her supervisor was treating her more harshly than white co-workers. The company investigated and concluded that no actual discrimination had occurred, but still made the supervisor attend diversity training.
Shortly after, Shirley complained that one of her territories had been altered and that the move might cost her sales. HR again investigated. Her territory was restored before the change affected her sales.
Still, she sued, alleging retaliation.
She lost because she couldn’t show an adverse impact from the change. As soon as the company discovered the potential retaliation, it fixed the problem. Shirley lost nothing. (Walker v. Centocor Ortho Biotech, No. 13-1855, 3rd Cir., 2014)
Final note: Employers that take their anti-discrimination efforts seriously seldom face liability. A good HR department has diversity and anti-discrimination training materials available and ready for use at the slightest hint of a problem. They don’t hesitate to provide refresher training or to undo potentially troublesome decisions. And remember that while a complaint may be unfounded, you may have intervened before a supervisor progressed from poor judgment to actual discrimination or retaliation.
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