What If No Action is Being Taken About my Discrimination Complaint?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a discrimination and retaliation complaint

Question:
I reported a discrimination and retaliation issue to a manager at our corporate office. He was appalled. He then reported it to HR in his office because HR in my office did nothing. Corporate HR then called me to discuss my issue. The HR manager who called me said at the end of our call “will you give me time to fix this?” I said yes. That was 5 weeks ago. How much time should I give her? I emailed her 3 days ago with more info and to follow up, but she has not responded at all.

I have an attorney, but was going to give the company a chance to handle the situation before my attorney starts sending letters, but it seems nothing is happening.

Response:
I can imagine your feelings of frustration, as you have waited for over a month to hear back from the corporate HR manager. What you do—and when you do it—will depend on at least two factors. Consider the following, as you think about your next steps.

1.) Did you and the HR manager come to an agreement about what would “fix” the situation? For example, if the situation involves your own manager and some aspect of your work or career opportunities, did you and the HR manager discuss what you need from the company, to feel that the situation has been remedied and the damage done to you has been repaired?  The HR manager doesn’t have the authority to promise corporate responses, but she can be a catalyst for action, based on your complaint.

If you and the HR manager didn’t discuss what it would take to make things right, the HR manager may settle for something much less than you anticipated. For example, you might expect you will have a negative personnel action reversed and be given a chance to apply for a coveted position. However, the HR manager may think that isn’t likely to happen, so she settles for sending out an EEO reminder to managers and developing an EEO presentation for the next management meeting. She may think she has already fixed the situation to the best of her ability and there is nothing more to be done.

Your attorney has probably discussed this with you already: Develop a statement you can easily write or say, about what you want to have happen as a result of your complaint or any civil action your attorney might take. In that way, you have established what “fixing” the problem involves and you can more easily decide whether the HR manager has fulfilled your expectations. What you say you want as a remedy may, in reality, just be a starting point for negotiations. However, by now the HR manager could have told you something about whether your expectations were going to be fulfilled or if you should lower your expectations.

If you and the HR manager came to an agreement about what would remedy the situation but nothing has happened in five weeks (and she has not talked to you about it, even with the recent emails) you could certainly justify moving forward through your attorney. Five weeks is plenty long enough to start an investigation and take some immediate remedial actions to improve your situation.

2.) The second factor to consider, if the cost of involving your attorney. Unless your attorney is providing services for free or on a contingency basis, every phone call and letter is expensive. If you think you can wait, it might be wise to send another email, this one with a deadline. For example:

“I’ve waited since May 10th but haven’t seen any changes or had any communication about my complaints, nor did I get response to the email I sent three days ago. When you asked me to give you time to fix this discriminatory and retaliatory situation, I said yes. However, if I don’t hear something definitive about it by June 20th, I will turn the matter over to my attorney and further communications will be done through him. I hope ABC Corporation cares enough about its employees and its policies that they will want to remedy this situation because they know it’s the right thing to do, not because they are required to do it. Please let me know if actions have been taken about which I’m not aware. Also, let me know when you think I can expect to hear the final resolution of this matter.”

If that doesn’t get a response and you don’t want to wait any longer, you’ll know you have no choice but to involve your attorney. Just make sure the result you are seeking is worth the expense of an attorney and the threat of a civil lawsuit.

One thing to keep in mind about all of this is that even though the first manager you talked to said he was appalled and even though the corporate HR manager acted concerned as well, it may be that someone at a higher level decided there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing to take action in your favor. Or, it may be that there are a lot of conversations about trying to lessen the liability for the company. Or, the manager who you think is the source of the original problems is being given time to put together a good counter argument.

One thing is certain: If you believe you were discriminated against and suffered retaliation for complaining, and if your company is dragging its feet about responding to you, your only reasonable option is to get your facts and witnesses together and get your attorney to take the action needed to make things right for you and for others who may be in your same situation.

Best wishes with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know how it works out for you.

Tina Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Follow-up: 

I appreciate your detailed response and opinion.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said they may be having in depth talks regarding the company’s liability and trying to lessen it. I have proof of clear discrimination. Paper-trail proof. I also have proof of a lie my boss fabricated that included my name. He’s been on a witch hunt ever since I reported the discrimination. It’s seriously been one witch hunt after another. I’ve never been written up, but my boss has tried to once. Corporate HR got involved and put a stop to it though.

I know that for a fact because my innocence relied on a manager witnessing it and he was called to verify his story- which was the same as my story. He called me to tell me everything.

With that being said, I think corporate HR is having an “What do we do?” moment. My boss has notoriously been protected by his boss.

As for HR discussions about remedies, we have not discussed that thoroughly yet. I told her that my boss should be terminated if he lied (which we know he did). I also stated that I know I have been a victim of pay disparity which violates the federal Equal Pay Act, as well as retaliation. Retaliation alone justifies termination. She did not give me any potential remedies though.

******

Also, I want to add that at least 6 other women over the past 5 years have also experienced the discrimination, and at least 3 of them are willing to sue also.

Response:

Thank you for the additional information. I’ll stay in contact with you.

Tina Rowe