UPDATED

When professional basketball team owner Donald Sterling was caught on tape making racist remarks about African Americans, the NBA commissioner followed the correct procedure.  He conducted a timely investigation and implemented a punishment he thought appropriate to the violation —a lifetime ban from the game and $2.5 million dollar fine.  While you may or may not agree that the punishment was the right move, it did send a clear message that the NBA does not tolerate racism.

The commissioner’s strategy proved to be a smart one, as the controversy – which stood poised to take on Paula Deen proportions – seems to be settling down. Employers should take note that a swift investigation can do a lot to make a bad situation better. Employers are encouraged to be proactive and make inquiries if the company catches wind of complaints, concerns, or even rumors that any employee is violating its EEO policy.  Remember that the goal of your EEO policy and any investigation is to prevent a potential problem from becoming a tragedy.

Investigations can also lead the employer to conclude that the claim is without merit.  Take LA Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett, for example.  Beckett was recently accused of using the n-word in a bar.  Like the NBA commissioner, the Dodgers prompty responded with a full investigation.  But unlike the Clipper situation, the Dodgers were apparantly unable to find any evidence corrobarating the allegation.  Process matters — if the investigation is credible and comes up empty, punishment probably is not warranted.