Was the supervisor too fair in dealing with her complaint?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Was the supervisor too fair in dealing with her complaint?

Store manager Harry Horner sighed. Floor sales rep Annie Barnett was steaming through his door, and that meant only one thing: She’d been having more trouble with her colleague, Roger Zinn.

“He’s gone way too far this time,” Annie blurted. “In front of a customer, no less. He said he was going to kick my, well, effing butt if I didn’t stop supposedly stealing his customers.”

His days were numbered
“That sounds serious,” Harry said. “You know we’ve already reprimanded Roger for inappropriate conduct, and if what you say is true, he’s not going to be working here much longer.

“I need to look into this latest incident, and I promise I’ll get back to you soon,” Harry added.

“I don’t know how much longer I can take Roger,” Annie retorted. “First he says in front of the other employees that I have a big rear end. Then he makes vile sexual insinuations about me and Stephanie Richards. And now this.”

“I know it’s unpleasant,” Harry said. “But remember we had to issue you a reprimand also, for calling Roger names.”

“Oh, come on,” Annie said. “I called him a ‘leviathan.’ That’s hardly a dirty word. It’s in the Bible.”

“Yet Roger thought you were calling him a devil, and he also claimed you had taken one of Stephanie’s customers,” Harry said. “So there’s been bad blood on both sides, and we’ve tried to handle it even-handedly. You remember the meeting we had to reiterate the policy about assigning reps to customers, so there’d be no misunderstanding.”

“That’s the trouble,” Annie said. “You’re being even-handed when this is basically all Roger’s fault.”

She tapped her foot impatiently, then burst out, “You know what? I really don’t need this stress in my life. I quit.”

Unexpected resignation
“Please don’t act hastily,” Harry said. “There’s a process going on with Roger’s discipline, and it’s only a matter of time.”

“You’re out of time,” Annie said. “I can’t work in this horrible environment any longer.” She walked out and never returned to work.

Two weeks later, the company fired Roger. A few weeks after that, Annie sued for sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment and said she’d been constructively discharged. Did she win?

The decision
No, Annie didn’t win her lawsuit. The court said Roger’s misconduct wasn’t severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment. What was more, the court said, Harry acted promptly to stop the misbehavior. In fact, he handled everything in textbook fashion.

As for Annie’s claim of constructive discharge, the court said she’d been too impatient. Instead of quitting in a huff, she had an obligation to wait and see whether Harry would take meaningful action against Roger. He did.

So what did Harry do that supervisors should emulate? He:

  • reprimanded both Annie and Roger when they were out of line,
  • investigated Annie’s latest complaint, not allowing her anger to rush him, and
  • fired Roger after it became clear he had in fact threatened Annie.

Cite: Anda v. Wickes Furniture Co., No. 07-1427, 8th Cir. Fictionalized for dramatic effect.

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