- Blog post
Court: Harassment victim’s transfer looked like retaliation
Yes, by all means, transfer a harassment complainant away from his/her harasser while you investigate. But be careful: If the transfer starts to look like punishment, you may have created more trouble than you avoided.
A federal appeals court recently took on an employee’s case, after she claimed her Connecticut-based employer retaliated against her through just such a transfer.
The employee came to HR with a list of grievances against her manager, who had remarked on the shape of her posterior, talked about her “spreading her legs” for her gynecologist, said he wanted to choke her, and sent her a plant whose name had sexual overtones.
HR snapped into action, interviewing accuser, accused, and witnesses. And a day after the investigation started, the company moved the employee to another office, under a different manager.
So far, so good. But then things started to go south.
The employee’s new boss, with whom she’d had a good relationship in the past, proved ultra-critical and verbally abusive. (This man, by the way, reported to the accused harasser.) In her new office, lead paint chips sifted down onto her desk from the walls. Important tasks were taken away from her, and her hours were changed. Eventually, the company fired her, and she sued for retaliation. The appeals court cleared her case for trial.
Remember: Harassment complainants are in a protected class. Make sure they are not mistreated because of their complaint.