February 23, 2016
TOP TEN WAYS EMPLOYERS CAN AVOID DISCRIMINATION
Every so often a story involving a discrimination lawsuit will be featured on news, catching
the public’s attention with its exceptionally large verdict. For example, in the spring of
2015, a Pittsburgh jury returned a $13 million judgment in a case where a woman was the
target of obscene gestures and continually called “Big Girl” by a few of her male
colleagues. In 2014, a 66-year-old man was awarded $26 million by a Los Angeles jury
when he was subjected to a string of false accusations and harassment by co-workers and a
manager, which culminated in his suspension for taking a bell pepper, worth 68 cents, from
the cafeteria. Clearly, discrimination lawsuits can cost companies thousands, if not
millions, of dollars in damages. Commonly, however, companies will ignore potentially
discriminatory activity until they are the defendants in a discrimination suit.
Employees may file discrimination suits on a variety of grounds such as race, age, sex,
disability, or a wide variety of other immutable characteristics. Thus, while the only sure
way to avoid discrimination suits altogether is to close your doors and go out of business,
there are multiple ways that employers can significantly reduce the likelihood of such suits.
The following list provides the ten tips that employers can implement to protect themselves
from employee discrimination lawsuits.
10. Cultivate a workplace intolerant of discrimination or harassment. While the rest of
the tips on this list are more specific in nature, they all circle back to this overarching
concept of cultivating an environment that will not tolerate discrimination. By enforcing the
idea that all forms of harassment is not acceptable via employee handbooks, clear hiring and
firing procedures, and training, companies can solve discrimination conflicts before
9. Create (or revise) policy manuals. This is a simple, easy, and rather effective strategy
for preventing discrimination lawsuits. Every company should include within their manuals
a strong anti-discrimination statement and comprehensive anti-harassment policy.
8. Thoroughly train managers and supervisors. Managers and supervisors need to be
educated on what discrimination actually is and be able to recognize the signs of
harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Key personnel should also be trained on how to
properly take complaints and respond appropriately to avoid inflaming tense workplace
conflicts. Those in supervisory roles should fully understand that prevention of
discrimination lawsuits is their responsibility.
7. Educate all employees about workplace discrimination. Training for lower level
employees should define discrimination and emphasize that such behavior will not be
tolerated in the workplace.
6. Be transparent. In addition to being told what is prohibited, general employee training
should also inform employees of their right to a discrimination free workplace and educate
employees on how supervisors should be handling complaints. Transparency in the
complaints process creates a higher level of accountability among supervisors and serves to
5. Hire fairly. Displaying a trend of not hiring a protected class of individuals could lead to
claims of discrimination down the road. Asking about an employment candidate’s age, sex,
disability, religion, race, color, or marital status in an interview can be interpreted as proof
of intent to discriminate.
4. Create a paper trail. In addition to having a clear complaint process, it is important to
document complaints as well as all conversations and investigatory actions involved in
assessing the complaint. Further, even in scenarios where supervisors do not expect
discrimination allegations, possibly because the employee’s behavior clearly warrants
termination, it is important to document the process to squash any later allegations by the
terminated, disgruntled employee.
3. Discipline employees carefully. Be sure to know all the facts and have hard evidence
before pursuing disciplinary action against employees. In cases of serious disciplinary
action where there is a high likelihood an employee may allege discrimination, consider
consulting legal counsel before taking any final action.
2. Take employee complaints seriously. While the daily grind of the workplace and
difficult employees may tempt those in management roles to blow off complaints, such
apathy will often serve to enhance workplace conflicts. Making employees feel heard can
ease tension and prevent the disgruntled employee from pursuing legal action.
1. Learn how to fire well. One scenario that often leads to discrimination suits is a poorly
planned or badly executed termination. In a well-executed termination, the employee should
leave knowing why they were fired and why they, the employee, and the company are better
off. Sometimes, failing to provide the truth as to why an employee was terminated can lead
to speculation and allegations of discrimination.
Cultivating a culture intolerant of discrimination can save companies big bucks by
preventing expensive litigation. To that end, companies should not wait until they are the
targets of a discrimination lawsuit before deciding to take anti-discrimination policies
seriously. By implementing these simple guidelines, employers can get ahead of potential
discrimination actions and diffuse workplace conflict before litigation ensues.