Many human resource professionals have had to deal with the aftermath of failed workplace romances. When the rejected suitor is the other employee’s supervisor, the employer can face serious consequences regardless of its prompt response to the situation. What happens, however, when the jilted employee accused of seeking retaliation is the human resource professional herself? According to a decision last month from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the employer may be liable for her attempts to have him fired.
In Velazquez-Perez v. Developers Diversified Realty Corp., the male plaintiff, an operations manager for the employer, alleged that he rebuffed the HR Manager’s expressions of romantic interest. As a result, he claimed that she began criticizing his work performance to management, eventually resulting in his termination from employment. He sued the employer, claiming sex discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation for previously complaining about the HR Manager’s advances.
Although the HR Manager was not the plaintiff’s supervisor, the First Circuit concluded that the company could be liable for quid pro quo harassment if it resulted in his termination. The court stated that the employer’s culpability would be determined under the negligence standard used for harassment claims by co-workers. If the employer knew or should have known that the HR Manager was basing her evaluations on her alleged rejected advances, the company can be held liable for this conduct.
Although the HR Manager’s alleged actions in this case were highly unusual, employers should always be sensitive to the motivation of managers or other employees involved in the employee evaluation process. Are the criteria used for the evaluation open to possible manipulation for other reasons? Are the evaluations reviewed by disinterested parties to assure the absence of bias? Reasonable safeguards such as these can help avoid legal claims stemming from reasons having little to do with legitimate business criteria.