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Ensure employees know how to complain about retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

You know that employees who complain about harassment or discrimination shouldn’t suffer retaliation. But do you have a mechanism in place that prevents such retaliation? If not, it’s time to come up with one.

Nipping retaliation in the bud is far cheaper than defending it in court.

Here’s one way to help prevent retaliation. Instruct all employees who report any sort of discrimination that the company won’t tolerate retaliation. Then give workers an easy way to report any problems. Otherwise, an angry supervisor may get a chance to drive the employee out. If an employee quits in disgust or despair, your costs shoot up, as the following case amply demonstrates.

Recent case:
Olivia Tamayo worked for years at Harris Farms in the fields of the Central San Joaquin Valley. Then she filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer.

During a six-week jury trial, she told the court that her supervisor had raped her on several occasions and then threatened her with a gun and a knife to stop her from complaining. When she finally reported the sexual assault and harassment to the company, it suspended her.

A jury believed Tamayo and awarded her $53,000 in back pay, $91,000 in future lost wages, $350,000 for emotional pain and suffering, and another $500,000 in punitive damages (later reduced to the $300,000 statutory limit).

Harris Farms appealed, arguing, among other things, that the punitive damages weren’t appropriate. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the award. It noted that Harris Farms used tactics—such as suspension after she reported the assaults and threats—to deter her from pursuing the case. (EEOC v. Harris Farms, No. 05-16945, 9th Cir., 2008)

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