June 30, 2022

When Industry Experts (Allegedly) Get it Wrong

In one week, I read two headlines about lawsuits filed against the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). As a former member for nearly 25 years, these caught my attention. SHRM proclaims to be “the foremost expert, convener and thought leader on issues impacting today’s evolving workplaces.”

The first was on June 24th when notice of a settlement was published. SHRM agreed to pay $221,500 to settle claims filed by three individuals with disabilities. The lawsuit alleged SHRM violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to “provide d/Deaf individuals with full and equal access to [its] resources and services.” In addition to the monetary award, SHRM will engage in some additional practices like offering close captioning in its online public programming.

The second was on June 30th, when a former employee filed a lawsuit alleging SHRM engaged in race/color discrimination and retaliation. Discrimination when, following her promotion, the employee alleges she became the target of race and/or color discrimination by her new supervisor who favored white colleagues. Alleged retaliation when her new supervisor excluded her from meetings and professional development opportunities after she first expressed her concern and for doing so “over a dozen times” in a three-month period.

Lessons learned. Even when we think we know it all or more than others, a federal agency or judge might not agree. Even when you are sure you know the right thing to do, use a sounding board. Sometimes, a second perspective can provide insight you may not have considered.

Also, consider the U.S. EEOC’s 2016 “Enforcement Guidance on Retaliation.”  There is one section I particularly appreciate, “Anti-Retaliation and Individualized Support for…Managers.  They get it. We are all human beings.  We are all emotional beings.  When someone says we did something wrong, we might have an emotional, defensive response.

This section reads, “managers and supervisors alleged to have engaged in discrimination should be provided with guidance on how to handle any personal feelings about the allegations when carrying out management duties or interacting in the workplace.”   Ask yourself. What guidance and support are you offering your managers alleged to have engaged in discrimination? Help them avoid even the appearance of retaliation.