Employers are facing an increasing number of discrimination or retaliation accusations from former employees who say they were wrongfully terminated.
Businesses can protect themselves from those types of allegations but don’t always win if matters are taken to court.
Take for example a case involving a former Kansas City, Mo. television reporter who was awarded $110,000 in lost wages. Lisa Benson Cooper filed and won a retaliation lawsuit against KSHB-TV Channel 41 and its parent company Cincinnati-based Scripps Media Co., according to a report from public radio station KCUR 89.3.
Cooper initially sued, the report indicates, for race discrimination alleging she was denied job opportunities and promotions based on her race. Cooper later added claims KSHB-TV retaliated against her by not renewing her contract. A jury ruled in favor of the television station and Scripps Media on Cooper’s race discrimination claims, however.
So how can employers insulate themselves from similar lawsuits?
Human resources experts say often it’s a matter of using timely and consistent discipline practices in the workplace. Syndeo incorporates the use of progressive discipline methods as an outsourced employer services provider.
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Employee discrimination cases increasing
A Society for Human Resources Management conference June 23-26 in Las Vegas included discussions about how to reduce cases involving accusations of employer retaliation.
Christine Howard, an attorney with law firm Fisher & Phillips in Tampa, Fla., is quoted in a SHRM publication saying: “The best defense to a retaliation claim is timely and consistent discipline.”
She said during the SHRM conference that terminated employees often will incorporate retaliation with underlying claims of discrimination or harassment. Employees still can win a retaliation lawsuit if they face disciplinary action after bringing a reasonable complaint against an employer, even if claims of discrimination or harassment are found to have little merit.
Howard said that means employers need to be prepared to demonstrate any disciplinary action was independent of employee protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study shows retaliation claims accounted for more than 39,000 of the 90,558 charges of discrimination filed with the agency last year.
Syndeo can help
What is an employer to do?
Howard, the Florida attorney, recommends employers include anti-retaliation language in their policies, perhaps even creating a stand-alone policy on the topic. Employers also should train those who make employment decisions to recognize the forms retaliation can take and how to steer clear of the perception of retaliation.
Any policy should be well-publicized, include multiple avenues for an employee to file a complaint and specify complaints will remain confidential to the extent possible.
Syndeo encourages employers to have in place consistent anti-harassment policies and reporting procedures.
Working with Syndeo as an outsourced employer services provider can lessen an employer’s risk of retaliation lawsuits.
Syndeo helps Kansas-based companies ensure progressive discipline is applied consistently to similarly-situated employees and that policies are consistently enforced.
When allegations of retaliation arise, Syndeo manages the entire investigation by gathering statements, interviewing witnesses and assisting with a post-investigation action plan.
More information about Syndeo’s human resources services is available online.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help your business.
About us: As the Heartland’s leading employer services company, Syndeo partners with local business owners to help them minimize risk, improve efficiency and maximize profitability allowing them the freedom to focus on growth and fulfilling their mission. Syndeo fulfills its mission by taking on all of the HR responsibilities for our clients’ workforce, including employee relations, benefits, risk management and payroll.
~Josh Heck, Marketing Manager Syndeo