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One insult does not a legitimate lawsuit make

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Supervisors play an important role in maintaining a harmonious work environment. However, sometimes bosses are the ones most guilty of breaching civility, by saying things that offend employees.

Don’t think the only possible response is to fire the supervisor or reassign the offended employee.

As long as the behavior doesn’t continue, judges don’t want to see extended litigation over something that’s essentially a management problem that could have been easily handled in-house.

Recent case: Kim was a catering coordinator at a Panera restaurant. She was washing dishes when her supervisor and another co-worker walked by. Kim claimed she heard her supervisor say, “What did you say, Travis? You said Kim’s a whore?” At the time, Kim was facing away from the two, so did not see their expressions.

Kim reported the incident to the catering manager, who dutifully passed it along to HR. An investigation ensued. Everyone involved was interviewed and the incident was turned over to a district manager for a final decision. In the end, the district manager concluded that the supervisor should be disciplined, but not terminated. The supervisor received a written warning.

Kim refused to work with the supervisor again. She accepted a transfer to a different location, but quit four months later because she didn’t like the longer commute the new assignment required.

Then she sued, alleging a hostile work environment and retaliation.

The court tossed out her lawsuit. It reasoned that one comment didn’t create a hostile work environment and that Kim could have kept working at the original location.

It said expecting employers to fire every supervisor who makes a single, offensive comment isn’t reasonable and isn’t grounds for protracted litigation. (Craft v. Panera Bread, No. 14-CV-5061, DC MN, 2016)

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