Workplace investigations

AuthorAaron B. Maduff
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Most employers have an anti-discrimination and sexual harassment policy which includes a reporting procedure.
Failure to follow that procedure can lead to a failure to resolve the situation, as well as a failure to undermine the
employee’s legal position. See Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775, 118 S. Ct. 2275 (1998); Burlington
Industries v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742, 118 S. Ct. 2257 (1998). Nonetheless, employees who know the procedure will
often fail to report discrimination or harassment because it is uncomfortable; because they fear that the bad actor
(discriminatory decision maker or harasser) will retaliate in overt or subtle ways; because they fear retaliation from
the company; or because they simply do not know how to go about doing it.
§ Review Documents
Review the company’s sexual harassment or anti-discrimination policy (or both as may be appropriate), as well
as any notes or other documents that the employee kept during the time of the harassment. Advise the employee
   
page. When reviewing the company policies take special care to note how complaints of sexual harassment or
§ Reports Already Made
Review thoroughly the reasonableness of your client’s use of (or failure to make use of) the company’s preventive
     
one? To whom has she made the report? Did the report contain the necessary language to apprise the employer of
magic language (see practice note below) necessary to support a retaliation claim if anything should happen? Even
  Minarsky v. Susquehanna
County    
 
     
   
Faragher-Ellerth element
as a matter of law.”
§ Prepare a Written Complaint
There are several ways to report the discrimination or harassment. You can assist your client in preparing to
make an oral complaint, be on the telephone with her to proper people to make an oral complaint, assist in preparing
a written complaint, or directly send a written a written complaint. While an oral complaint will provide your client
motion, preparing a written complaint is always best because it creates a record which can also be used at trial.
Moreover, a written complaint is more likely to deter retaliation because the employer can see the record
being made. The written complaint is best done by email because your client can then prove that it was received.
A written complaint can also be made directly by the attorney. To assure that there are no implications that you
are violating the Rules of Professional Conduct, it is important to identify yourself as an attorney and invite any
response from legal counsel if the company so chooses. So long as the complaint is directed at the right individual,
Failure to make a complaint in a timely fashion can hurt the employee in any later lawsuit. For example, in
Jackson v. Arkansas Department of Education, 272 F. 3d 1020 (8th Cir. 2001), the employee delayed nine months
also Newsome v. Administrative Oce of the Courts of the State of New Jersey, 51 Fed. Appx. 76, 81 (3d Cir. 2002).

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