Photo of Gabriel Jiran

Gabriel Jiran is a partner in Shipman's Employment and Labor Practice Group. Gabriel practices labor and employment law on behalf of corporations and public employers. He assists employers in addressing the full spectrum of issues associated with the employment relationship. He negotiates collective bargaining agreements, and frequently represents employers before administrative agencies and courts in labor disputes. Gabriel also litigates employment disputes on behalf of employers.

LetterImageEmployee complaints based on anonymous harassment pose special problems for employers.  How do you uncover the source of the problem when no one is able to identify who acted inappropriately?  One employer learned the hard way what not to do and what should be done.

A black female employee complained to her supervisor about receiving an anonymous note in her mailbox.  The note appeared to be a federal hunting license authorizing the holder to hunt and kill black people day or night, with or without dogs.  There was also a hand-drawn stick figure with a noose around its neck.  The supervisor first reported the incident to his manager, but neither reported the incident to Human Resources.  They also did not document the incident or interview anyone.  Following this cursory investigation, nothing further was done as no one was able to identify a suspect.  No one even notified the complaining employee that the matter was closed.

Not hearing anything about her complaint, the employee called an employee hotline and also reported the incident to the police.  Her calls triggered a new investigation by the Human Resource department, but no useful information turned up.  Human Resources then ended its investigation concluding that the incident was isolated.  It later turned out that the on-site managers and supervisors were aware of earlier incidents of targeting of black employees, but did not disclose them.

Eight months later, the employee received a similar threatening note and immediately reported it.  She asked why cameras had not been put in the area.  The same threat was received by several other black employees, who also reported it.  This time cameras were installed. Nothing turned up and the investigation again was closed.  The police fingerprinted employees so that in the future any notes could be dusted for prints.

The targeted employee then sued alleging a hostile environment.  While the district court granted the company’s request for summary judgment, the appeals court reversed.  The appeals court was critical of the company’s actions and set out guidance on what should have been done. 
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