The Legal Context of Employment Decisions
Questions This Chapter Will Help Managers Answer
| How are employment practices affected by the civil rights laws and Supreme Court interpretations of those laws?
| What should be the components of an effective policy to prevent sexual harassment?
| What obligations does the Family and Medical Leave Act impose on employers? What rights does it grant to employees?
| When a company is in the process of downsizing, what strategies can it use to avoid complaints of age discrimination?
| What should senior management do to ensure that job applicants or employees with disabilities receive “reasonable accommodation”?
| Human Resource Management in Action: Retaliation: A New Legal Standard and Some Preventive Measures 1 1 Sources: Janove, J. (2006, Oct.). Retaliation nation. HRMagazine, pp. 63–67. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Retaliation. n.d., www.eeoc.gov/types/retaliation.html, April 14, 2008. Payback of the week. (2006, July 10).BusinessWeek, p. 25. Gutman, A. (2006, Oct.). Burlington Northern & Santa Fe (BNSF) v. White: More than meets the eye. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 44(2), 57–67. Dunleavy, E. (2007, Jan.). What is all the fuss about? The implications of the EEOC deterrence standard after BNSF v. White. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 44(3), 31–39. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer may not fire, demote, harass, or otherwise “retaliate” against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination. The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, and disability, as well as wage differences between men and women performing substantially equal work, also prohibit retaliation against individuals who oppose unlawful discrimination or participate in an employment discrimination proceeding. Prior to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, case law had defined retaliation as largely meaning the loss of a job. The Court’s ruling in Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White (126 S. Ct. 2405), however, expanded the definition of employer retaliation, making it easier for employees to file such claims. Specifically, the ruling allows workers to file retaliation suits even when an employment action does not diminish their pay, hours, or benefits, or cause them to suffer a monetary loss of any kind. Moreover, anti-retaliation law potentially extends to any employer conduct, even when it is not work-related. First we will review the facts of the case, and then, in the conclusion at the end of the chapter, focus on its implications, as well as preventive actions by employers. The Facts of the Case. In the Burlington Northern case, the Supreme Court grappled with a fundamental question: What kind of employer behavior constitutes retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? The case centered on Sheila White, who worked in the railroad’s Tennessee Yard and was assigned to operate a forklift—a cleaner, less onerous task than those performed by other yard workers. White lost this plum assignment after making an internal sexual harassment complaint against her foreman, Bill Joiner. After an investigation, Joiner was disciplined. When Marvin Brown, the manager in charge, informed White of the investigation’s results, he also told her she would no longer be operating the forklift because coworkers complained that she had received the cushier position despite having less seniority than some of her peers. As a result, White was assigned to perform the more arduous tasks performed by other yard workers. White reacted by filing a complaint with the EEOC, alleging sex discrimination and retaliation. She also filed a second discrimination charge with the EEOC for retaliation, alleging that Brown had placed her under...
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