When HR investigates discrimination complaints, you don’t have to act like a court of criminal law, deciding whether an employee is telling the truth “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Employers must, of course, conduct an internal investigation that’s fair and carried out in good faith. You have the power to decide who is telling the truth and which witnesses or accounts are most credible. For better or worse, you’re allowed to be wrong.
So don’t feel paralyzed if a discrimination investigation boils down to one employee’s word against another’s. Use your best judgment to decide who is telling the truth and go with that judgment.
Courts won’t second-guess the decision unless the complaining employee can prove you sided with someone you knew was lying and used it as an excuse to discriminate.
Recent case: Johnny Johnson worked as a pilot, flying over oil and gas pipelines with a spotter, looking for trouble with the pipelines.
One of his spotters complained to that Johnson was anti-Hispanic and had once told him “the government should … give them all the rifles so they could shoot the Mexicans.” The company fired Johnson based partly on the spotter’s complaint.
Johnson sued, alleging he hadn’t made such a statement. The court tossed out his case. It reasoned that, as long as the employer in good faith believed the spotter, it was irrelevant whether he told the truth about Johnson’s alleged comment. The employer doesn’t have to be right, just honest. (Johnson v. Barr Air Patrol, No. 3:07-CV-1444, ND TX, 2009)
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