Be careful after employee wins lawsuit, but don’t be afraid of warranted discipline

When an employee has won a lawsuit against her employer, managers naturally want to make sure they don’t do anything that might smack of possible retaliation. On the other hand, managers shouldn’t feel as if the employee is now “untouchable.”

The key is to very carefully document any discipline. Other than that, treat the employee just as you would treat any other employee under similar circumstances.

Recent case: Mary, who worked in accounting, filed a lawsuit against her employer alleging that she had been paid less than her male counterparts. The case dragged on for several years before being settled.

According to her account of what happened next, the employer then began a series of retaliatory acts, including unfairly criticizing her for alleged interference with another employee’s FMLA application. Ultimately, Mary was fired for the FMLA incident, general complaints about her treatment of co-workers and subordinates and interfering with another personnel matter.

She sued again, alleging retaliation. But the employer showed that it had legitimate reasons for its disciplinary actions, which weren’t related to her initial complaint. (Horvath v. Urban Redevelopment, WD PA, 2017)

Final note: In this case, a manager went so far as to send a memo explaining that he was not retaliating against Mary and justifying his proposed discipline with specific examples of workplace misconduct. Mary tried to argue that his justifications proved he retaliated. The court disagreed and found the manager’s memo reasonable.