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Independent review can catch retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Cynthia Morrison, who had worked for 17 years as an emergency room registrar, thought her new supervisor favored younger employees and was hostile toward older ones.

Someone left a screen-saver message on a shared computer asking why—as rumor had it—younger registrars were being paid more. The new boss left a screen-saver message of his own: “Because they are younger, dependable and more productive—that’s why!” He later apologized, but Morrison still believed he discriminated against older workers.

Later, in accordance with hospital policies, the supervisor suspended Morrison for attendance problems. She promptly sued for age discrimination and retaliation. A lower court dismissed her discrimination claim, but sent the retaliation claim to the jury, which awarded Morrison $115,000.

The hospital appealed and won. The court concluded that even if the boss had been inclined to retaliate, the hospital’s rigorous disciplinary review process ensured that there were adequate grounds for Morrison’s suspension. (Furline v. Morrison, No. 04-CV-1029, DC DC, 2008)

Advice: Establish an independent process to review discipline decisions. In this case, having such a panel persuaded the court that the hospital would be able to spot retaliation if it were actually occurring.

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