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In harassment cases, treat all offenders alike

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

You need a clear process for handling harassment complaints, following the same procedures for every accused harasser. Otherwise, you could end up facing a discrimination lawsuit.

Recent case: Robert, who is black, was fired from his government job after a subordinate complained he asked her join him and his wife in a sexual threesome. Agency rules required a thorough, independent investigation by the equal employment opportunity (EEO) office, which concluded that Robert should be disciplined.

He sued, claiming white employees sometimes avoided sexual harassment discipline by having their managers handle the complaints instead of the EEO office, which was presumably tougher on accused harassers.

The agency admitted that sometimes managers—not the EEO office—investigates harassment claims, but only when the office was temporarily short-staffed. Plus, it told the court that during that time, all kinds of employees—black and Hispanic as well as white—had their cases handled informally.

The court accepted that explanation and dismissed Robert’s race discrimination lawsuit. (Smith v. Chicago Transit, No. 14-2622, 7th Cir., 2015)

Bottom line: Stick with the process outlined in your policies. Document any deviation from the norm.

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