Jun 11, 2015

Do not retaliate!

A basic rule of thumb for all employers when addressing an employee’s complaints of harassment or discrimination in the workplace is to take the complaints seriously, perform a proper investigation and take appropriate action or corrective measures. Even a baseless claim of harassment or discrimination has the potential of becoming a risk of legal liability if the employer’s actions are perceived as retaliation against the employee who submitted the complaints.

This point is well illustrated in the recent jury verdict entered on April 21, 2015 by U.S. District Court in Garcia v. Sigmatron Int’l, Inc. In that case, the plaintiff, Maria Garcia, claimed she was subjected to discrimination and workplace harassment in violation of Title VII. After she complained to her employer, her employment was terminated purportedly because she utilized improper techniques in performing her job.

After a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Sigmatron on the harassment and discrimination claims, but found that the employer’s reason for Ms. Garcia’s termination was pretextual and entered a verdict in her favor on the retaliation claim. In rejecting the company’s motion for a judgment in its favor on the retaliation claim, the court held that there was sufficient testimony from employees that the same techniques used by Ms. Garcia were also used by other employees, although no other employee was terminated. The conflicting reasons for Sigmatron’s termination of Ms. Garcia supported her claim that the real reason she was terminated was in retaliation for complaints about harassment and discrimination. The jury’s verdict, which included an award of $250,000 in punitive damages, was accepted by the court.

Employers must carefully address workplace complaints without sacrificing their ability to correct employee performance issues. Any questions about the procedures to properly manage workplace complaints, especially with employees having performance issues, should be directed to legal counsel. 

This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client Alert authored by: 
Ryan A. Haas