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Simple EEO Lesson – No Retaliation

by Dennis Doverspike on January 27, 2009

in HR General,Public Sector HR,Selection

In providing Equal Employment training to managers, one of the most difficult concepts for them to grasp is that they are not allowed to respond or retaliate when an employee files a claim alleging employment discrimination. It is human nature to say, “you are trying to tell me that if one of my employees accuses me of doing something wrong to them, I just have to treat them as if nothing happened.” In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Employees or subordinates are allowed to exercise their right to file discrimination claims, without retaliation.

In a unanimous Supreme Court decision, the court extended this no retaliation policy to other employees (note that the headline from the New York Times is somewhat misleading, the case deals more with retaliation than sexual harassment). Basically, the court said that an employee who cooperates with internal investigations of discrimination may not be fired in retaliation. This was a school system case out of Tennessee filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  

It is understandable that the decision would be unanimous, in that if the employee is protected from retaliation, then other individuals cooperating in the investigation should be protected. Of course, this may still be difficult for employers and supervisors to accept, when we feel we are treated unfairly there is a natural tendency to want to respond. Companies need to train their supervisors in equal employment, including appropriate response so as to avoid the impression of retaliation.

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