Need another reason to investigate internal complaints? Avoiding retaliation claims.

Earlier this month the Eleventh Circuit decided a case that highlights the importance of conducting prompt investigations when an employee complains of harassment.  In Kurtts v. CSG, receptionist Crystal Kurtts received a flood of "sext" messages from her supervisor, including a request that they have sex in the office after hours and a suggestion that [...]

The intensity of a workplace investigation

I recently wrapped up a pretty intense workplace investigation.  Intense in terms of time, emotions of witnesses, and the potential stakes involved.  As the investigator, I worked hard to stay focused and neutral.  To be the proverbial tree standing still despite the circling winds.  It's not always easy, especially when those darn empathetic impulses kick [...]

Seventh Circuit refuses to expand anti-retaliation protection to employees who merely “participate” in a workplace investigation

In the recent case of Hatmaker v. Memorial Medical Center, the Seventh Circuit held that an employee's participation in an internal investigation was not protected activity under Title VII.  The statute's retaliation provision protects employees from retaliation when they oppose unlawful activity (under the provision's "opposition" clause) or when they participate in Title VII proceedings [...]

Thorough investigation saves employer’s day in court (again)

Late last month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Deborah Wood's discrimination, hostile work environment, and retaliation claims.  Wood was a systems analyst at the University of Pittsburgh who was laid off, along with sixteen other employees, due to a decrease in funding.  She promptly sued the University, alleging (among other [...]

Workplace investigations: to document or not to document

In a word, yes.  But, unless you have a seasoned investigator who knows how to prepare investigation-related documentation as if she were preparing "Exhibit A" for a trial (because she very well may be), no documentation is better than bad documentation.  So assuming you have a good investigator and plan on asking her to prepare [...]

Bad investigation supports punitive damages claim

The Sixth Circuit recently upheld a jury award of over a million dollars to a plaintiff who had been employed for a mere five weeks.  In West v. Tyson Foods, Inc., the plaintiff claimed she was sexually harassed by a number of male co-workers.  Per her employer's policy, she complained to her immediate supervisor.  The [...]

So the investigation is over. Now what?

Suppose you have successfully responded to a workplace complaint by conducting a prompt and thorough investigation and reaching findings of fact (or, better still, you outsourced the investigation to Warren & Hays).  The investigation found an employee violated the company policy prohibiting harassment or discrimination.  What is your next course of action?  A notation in [...]

Sometimes it pays to hire an outside investigator

How do you know when a workplace investigation needs an outside investigator? While we'd love to say "always," many investigations can be handled internally by competent HR personnel or in-house counsel. There are, however, red-flags that indicate when an outside investigator is necessary: The government is involved (EEOC, SEC, DOL) There is a chance of [...]