Can employers be found guilty of retaliating against an employee who’s filed a discrimination complaint that’s been proven a phony? You bet they can.
Imagine this sequence:
- A chronic complainer charges one of your managers with discrimination.
- You investigate and find out that there’s nothing to the charge.
- But during the investigation, the complainer gets transferred to a less-desirable job and sues, saying the transfer was retaliation for complaining.
Since the original charge turned out to be a fairy tale, the complainer has little chance of winning the retaliation charge, right?
In at least two court cases, the answer was “wrong.”
Judges awarded the complaining employees little or nothing for the discrimination complaints but slapped the employers hard for retaliating. In one case, the discrimination charge got dropped altogether, but the employee still won $675,000 in damages for retaliation. In another case, a jury gave the employee just $1,000 for the discrimination claim, but then added another $375,000 for retaliation.
Your best bet: When an employee files a complaint against a manager, have HR sit down with the manager and explain the importance of fair treatment until an investigation concludes. Remember, some managers may be quick to react, especially if they think the discrimination charge is bogus.