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Independent investigations by HR remove bosses’ biases

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

If there’s one situation in which the HR function really earns its keep, it’s when an employer faces the prospect of having to discharge an employee. Too often, immediate supervisors carry prejudices against employees that upper management doesn’t know about.

Sometimes—if a subordinate has a legitimate complaint against the supervisor, for example—the supervisor harbors illegal retaliatory motives. That’s when it’s best to have an independent decision-maker—such as an HR pro—involved.

Recent case: Morgan Stanley hired Gilberta Dorsey to manage a branch office. She had trouble with a subordinate, who she claimed was not performing as well as expected.

Dorsey scheduled a discussion with the headquarter’s HR office. During that discussion, Dorsey revealed that she thought her own boss had twice made a pass at her.

The HR specialist told Dorsey to discuss the matter with her boss or use the Morgan Stanley employee hotline. Dorsey did neither.

Shortly after, the HR office investigated alleged wrongdoing on Dorsey’s part, involving possible fraudulent Treasury note sales and the sale of initial public offering stock to the brother of Dorsey’s boyfriend. HR concluded Dorsey was ill-suited to management and offered her the choice of accepting a nonmanagement position in another office or tendering her resignation.

Dorsey resigned and sued, alleging retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.

But the court looked at the totality of the circumstances and concluded there was no connection between the alleged harassment by Dorsey’s boss and the independent investigation into Dorsey’s poor management. Plus, the boss she accused of harassment had nothing to do with the decision to demote Dorsey. (Dorsey v. Morgan Stanley, No. 05-2946, 7th Cir., 2007)

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