A part-time female hospital employee complained about her new male boss. Her complaints -- mainly generalized criticisms -- included disapproval of his "presentation of himself in public," his "remarks and appropriateness," his "obvious attraction to/fear of women" and his "leadership in relationship to women." The hospital, worried about potential hostile work environment implications, investigated. During an interview, the employee explained that because her boss was a Southern Baptist and a "good ole boy," she felt he therefore had "inherent sexist attitudes." "For the comfort of all concerned," the hospital fired the complainant, who then filed a Title VII retaliation claim.
The Seventh Circuit, through Judge Posner, rejected the employee's claims, finding not only that her comments did not suggest sex discrimination, but also that she was fired for "harping on" irrelevant sensitive issues and because her comments demonstrated bad judgment and a preoccupation with her new boss's "superficial characteristics." Judge Posner further reasoned that the employee's concern that her boss "might become a problem in the future" because, as a Southern Baptist, he harbored inherent, albeit unexpressed, "sexist attitudes" was not only irrelevant, but also itself stereotypical.
This case highlights a significant, and often overlooked, point. The fact that an employee complains should not necessarily mean that he or she is automatically insulated from appropriate discipline. We all know the potential consequences of failing to act on legitimate complaints of harassment, but overreacting or giving unwarranted credence to baseless complaints without the benefit of thorough and objective investigation also can give rise to workplace or legal problems. Thus, it is important for all parties involved that investigations are conducted in an impartial manner by investigators who are knowledgeable of the law and are able to fairly and objectively gather and analyze the facts.