Take fast action to investigate apparent rogue supervisor

There’s no substitute for boots on the ground when it comes to protecting employees from supervisors with hidden discriminatory agendas. If you ignore the warning signs of supervisor bias—often in the form of employee complaints about unfair treatment and workplace vendettas—and leave the “bad boss” in place, it’s probably just a matter of time before you find yourself responding to a lawsuit.

Your best protection from a rogue supervisor is to investigate all complaints about the supervisor. Don’t stop with asking the supervisor whether the complaints or rumors are true. Interview everyone who might have information or who might be in a position to observe what’s actually going on. Get a 360-degree view by talking to other managers, co-workers and anyone who might shed light on the accusations.

Recent case:
Tamer Mamou was a successful manager and salesman for Trendwest Resorts, a time-share sales company. Mamou is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Syria. All went well until new regional managers arrived on the scene after a new corporate entity purchased the company.

Soon, employees heard about an effort by management to supposedly get rid of Middle Easterners. Later, employees would testify about a supervisor who referred to those of Middle Eastern descent as “ragheads” or worse.

Meanwhile, Mamou had been named as a defendant in three disability and sick-leave lawsuits brought by employees. As a result, he told his new managers that he thought the company should abide by California laws and federal sick- and disability-leave laws. That’s when he claimed his new supervisor told him that many employees out on sick leave were just slacking off. Mamou said the supervisor told him those who were actually sick should suck it up and work: “If I’m sick … have stress … my opinion is people should still work and I still work.”

Mamou protested and shortly after was fired for alleged theft after the company learned he had attempted to register a new corporation that would sell time shares, too.

He sued, alleging he was really fired for supporting the rights of others to take sick leave and because he was of Syrian origin.

The Court of Appeal of California heard extensive testimony from many co-workers and supervisors. Several Trendwest employees recounted hearing racial slurs, comments about driving out those from the Middle East and the new supervisor’s desire to punish those who took sick leave by firing them or denying promotions. The court ordered a trial. (Mamou v. Trendwest Resorts, No. H031503, Court of Appeal of California, 6th Appellate District, 2008) 

The tell-tale signs of a rogue supervisor

It’s not hard to spot trouble if you pay attention. Here are two red flags:

  • Long term, good employees leave for “other opportunities.” In reality, they may have decided to get out rather than complain about discrimination. A good exit interview process may get at the truth.
  • Morale suddenly plummets or production falls, when the only thing that has changed is the supervisor.