“You might be surprised to learn that Nadia is suing us for religious bias,” said HR Manager Alan Frankel. “She thinks that we denied her a promotion because she’s Muslim. Worse, the job went to a non-Muslin coworker.”
“Nadia’s religion had nothing to do with our decision to not promote her,” said Supervisor Margie Brunton. “The employee who got the job had more experience and qualifications than Nadia did. What proof of bias does Nadia offer?”
“Nadia alleges that one of her coworkers, Emily, made several remarks that revealed hatred toward Muslims,” said Alan. “It started after Emily heard about a terrorist attack in Europe and said, ‘It’s the Muslims who are the terrorists; they’re the ones who killed all the people.’”
“But Nadia’s supervisor addressed that situation,” said Margie. “Her boss let Emily know that offensive comments about religion wouldn’t be tolerated. A short time later, Emily apologized to Nadia. Then the manager ordered the whole crew to not discuss religion at work anymore.”
“Nadia still doesn’t think we did enough,” said Alan. “She claims that Emily ignored the manager’s directive. Even after she was warned, Emily said to another worker that ‘all Muslims are terrorists.’”
“We did what we could to get a handle on that situation too,” said Margie. “After Nadia complained to us about what Emily had said, we investigated her allegations. However, we were unable to substantiate Nadia’s claims. We couldn’t even prove that the comment was made. Given that Nadia heard them second-hand, we didn’t have sufficient evidence of religious discrimination. Let’s fight this lawsuit.”
Did the company win?
Yes. The company won. A jury ruled in favor of the employer, and an appeals court upheld the jury’s decision, saying that there was insufficient evidence that the woman wasn’t promoted because of her religion.
The judge said that the company had legitimate reasons for giving the promotion to a non-Muslim coworker. In fact, the staffer chosen for the position had more experience and better qualifications than the Muslim crew member did.
The court also pointed out that the supervisor took action after learning about the allegedly discriminatory comments. The boss told the woman who made the offensive statements to stop talking about religion. And the manager arranged for an investigation, which revealed that the staffer’s claims couldn’t be substantiated. In that case, it was hard to justify additional action based on secondhand comments that couldn’t be proven.
What it means: You can’t ignore complaints of bias
Remember the importance of addressing complaints of discrimination as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Once someone makes a claim of inappropriate behavior, investigate the allegations.
In this case, the boss did everything a good manager should do. The supervisor convinced the woman who made the offensive comment to apologize for her remark, told crew members to avoid religious topics at work and initiated an investigation.
Based on Brummett v. Burberry Limited.
(From the Feb. 7, 2020, issue of HR Manager’s Legal Alert for Supervisors)