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Got wind of harassment? Fast action can cut liability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

We all would like to believe harassment and discrimination can’t happen where we work. Of course, we’re dreaming if we do.

Whenever diverse groups of people are brought together, there’s bound to be friction. Ordinary people sometimes fall back on old stereotypes or react strongly to newly perceived dangers by inappropriately striking out at a group or nationality.

That’s exactly what seems to have happened after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when fear of anyone with an Arabic sounding name peaked.

Fortunately for employers, isolated acts of harassment, if stopped dead in their tracks, won’t come back to haunt them years later.

Recent case: Ahmad Kahn worked for Pantex in Amarillo when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

When Kahn was fired for alleged poor performance in 2006, he sued, alleging race discrimination and a hostile work environment.

Kahn based his claim largely on how his co-workers and supervisor treated him in the year immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. He claimed his employer searched his car, withdrew his security clearance and somehow had his name placed on a “high alert” list. He continued working for the company throughout the ordeal.

The court dismissed his case. It said the troubles Kahn recounted were isolated events that ended about a year after the attacks. Therefore, he could not show that he had been harassed because of his nationality, religion or for any other illegal reason within the statute of limitations. The law gave him 300 days to file a complaint, and he waited too long. (Kahn v. BWXT Pantex, No. 2:07-CV-099, ND TX, 2007)

Final note: The court did say that it would have been a different matter if Kahn could have pointed to continued harassment. That just wasn’t the case here.

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