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Documentation key to showing prompt, fair investigation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Discrimination lawsuits can take years to resolve, and memories fade over time. That’s one reason to take careful notes during your initial investigation. Be sure to record exactly what the alleged victim says happened. You don’t want to be blindsided later—when the employee claims the discrimination was far worse than he told you at the time.

Good notes and signed witness statements help limit last-minute surprises. Plus, they show the court you acted promptly and fairly to resolve the problem.

Recent case: Charles Munson, who is black, sued his employer way back in 1999 over a racial slur that a co-worker allegedly uttered. The basis of the suit: Munson had learned from another co-worker that Edward Kenworthy referred to Munson and another black employee as “dumb n_____s.”

Immediately after learning of the slur, the company investigated and suspended Kenworthy for two days. It transferred him away from Munson and the other black employee. At the time, Munson signed an affidavit explaining that he had not personally heard Kenworthy, but had learned about it from another employee. He indicated that he knew Kenworthy had been punished for the incident. Yet he sued anyway.

Nine years later, a court has finally put this case to bed, following a long series of delays. The company was able to use the affidavit to show it had acted quickly and took Munson’s complaint seriously. That helped convince the court that the incident was brief, and not an indication of widespread racial hostility. Munson’s case was dismissed. (Munson v. England, et al., No. 04-0248, ED CA, 2008)

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