Limiting the damage from a employee complaint

by on May 4, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Employer’s effective response to an employee complaint got harassment damages slashed

Oh, no! A supervisor has betrayed your trust and used his position to sexually harass a subordinate. Now the company’s legal liability is on the line – unless you act quickly and firmly. In a recent case like this in Arkansas, the supervisor’s conduct was egregious enough that the employer couldn’t get entirely off the hook. But because the company acted effectively on the employee complaint to stop the harassment and protect the employee, it got the biggest chunk of a jury verdict – $250,000 in punitive damages – reversed on appeal.

Avoiding the worst from an employee complaint

That’s great HR work, and worth detailing. Here’s what happened: The supervisor, a woman, allegedly tried to unzip a male subordinate’s pants, and asked him to rent a hotel room so she could “tie him up and attack him.” He also said she constantly bothered him in his work area about non-work matters. After he complained, the supervisor was sent home on paid leave while the company made a thorough investigation, including interviews and re-interviews with both parties and co-workers. The supervisor was eventually allowed to return, with a written warning, after the investigation failed to confirm the worst of the employee’s complaints. Her contacts with him were strictly monitored by two managers.

The plant HR manager had a word with her on the subject every day. When the employee further complained of retaliation, the company brought in outside lawyers to review its internal investigation and conduct a new one of the retaliation charges. Although this second probe turned up no legal wrongdoing by the supervisor, she was ordered to attend training and he was allowed to work at home for six weeks. He sued anyway, and won. But the HR work impressed the appeals court, which erased the punitive damages.

Cite: Dominic v. DeVilbiss Air Power Co., No. 06-3236, 8th Cir., 7/20/07.

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