The scenario: A Black crew member was disappointed when he was passed over for a promotion in favor of a white man. He sent emails to just about everyone complaining that he was denied the promotion because of his race.
The white man who was promoted into the job was unhappy about the Black man’s repeated complaints. According to the Black worker, his new white boss also made some comments that the crew member found offensive. He called him “crazy” and said that “we don’t want you here” and that he and his fellow Blacks are “lazy.”
After the Black staffer sent 10 long emails to everyone on the staff complaining about alleged race discrimination, he was placed on administrative leave. He was also promised that his claims would be investigated.
When the Black staffer returned to work, he was told that the investigator found no merit to his complaints. He was asked whether he could put the issue behind him and return to work as a productive staff member. He said that he could only do so if everyone on the staff admitted that he’d been discriminated against and then resigned. He was fired a short time later.
Legal challenge: The Black worker sued for retaliation.
The ruling: The employer won. The court dismissed the lawsuit, pointing out that the worker wasn’t retaliated against; he was disciplined for failing to abide by company policies.
The skinny: Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between discipline and retaliation. You have the right to discipline workers who submit complaints. Just make sure the steps you take are focused on the person’s behavior rather than on the fact that he or she has alleged discrimination.
Cite: Jenkins v. Housing Court Department, City of Boston, U.S. Court of Appeals 1, No. 20-1124, 10/18/21.
(From the Dec. 17, 2021, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)