Many employees view Human Resources as the enemy, helping management to carry out unfair or discriminatory policies. Did you know that Human Resources employees who advocate for employees can be the victims of retaliation themselves?
HR Employees May Help Other Employee Victims of Discrimination
Recently, the Eleventh Circuit decided that Title VII protects HR representatives from retaliation in certain situations. The Case, Gogel v. Kia MFG. of Georgia, Inc., involved an HR employee who received a complaint from an employee. The employee reported that she felt another woman was being treated more favorably because of a romantic relationship with a senior manager. When Gogel reported the complaint through her chain of command, she was discouraged from pursuing it.
Later when Gogel complained about being overlooked for a promotion, she concluded that the reason was her prior advocacy for the employee who complained and gender discrimination. After Gogel filed her Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, management approached her to sign a document promising not to discuss her charge of discrimination, get other employees to give her information about her Charge, or to encourage other people to file Charges against the company. Later Kia accused Gogel of working with another employee to further their Charges of Discrimination against the company because they had the same lawyer. The company decided that the unproven allegation she was helping another employee with her Charge violated her duties as a Human Resources employee and terminated her employment.
The Eleventh Circuit decided that Human Resources employees can help the employees they work with sometimes. The court explained that Title VII protects HR employees who try to resolve employee complaints internally if the employer fails to respond adequately and the HR employees actions were reasonable.
Get Help Before You Make a Decision
The bottom line is that Human Resources employees should not be afraid to advocate for their employees and not just co-sign unlawful behavior by their employers. It is, however, a good idea to consult with an attorney to determine whether the course of action you propose to take is protected. Kira Fonteneau is an employment lawyer with several years of experience helping Alabama employees level the playing field against their employers. If you think you need to discuss an employment issue, call us at 205-564-9005.