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Michigan Employers: Don’t Panic When Faced With a Discrimination or Harassment Claim


By Jesse L. Roth

As an employer, you know discrimination and harassment can seriously affect your company. You must act swiftly to protect your business when an employee files a lawsuit or a discrimination or harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But where do you start? We provide the basics below.

Discrimination and Harassment Law

First, it’s necessary to understand the legal framework surrounding discrimination and harassment claims. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits discrimination against employees aged 40 or older. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also prohibits sexual harassment. In Michigan, there are similar state laws as well.

How Employers Should Respond

If an employee files a lawsuit or a discrimination or harassment claim with the EEOC, the first thing to do is consult an experienced Michigan employment law attorney. Your attorney can guide you through the legal process, help you assess the claim’s merits, and develop a defense strategy. If you have employment practices liability insurance, you should notify your carrier, which may assign defense counsel.

Your attorney will likely advise you to conduct an internal investigation to gather information about the claim. This may involve interviewing the employee who filed the claim and other employees and witnesses who may have relevant information. You should also gather any documents or other evidence that may be relevant to the claim, such as emails, text messages, or performance evaluations.

After gathering the relevant information, your attorney will work with you to develop a defense strategy. Depending on the specific circumstances of the claim, your defense strategy may involve arguing the alleged conduct did not occur, the conduct did not rise to the level of discrimination or harassment, or the conduct was not motivated by a protected characteristic (such as race, sex, or age).

Preventing Discrimination and Harassment in Your Workplace

Defending against discrimination and harassment claims can be expensive and time-consuming. To minimize the risk of facing such claims, you should take proactive steps to prevent discrimination and harassment in your workplace, which may include:

  • Providing regular training for employees and supervisors on preventing discrimination and harassment. 
  • Having a clear policy for reporting and investigating complaints.
  • Taking swift and appropriate action when complaints are made.

In addition, it’s crucial to have a solid anti-retaliation policy in place. Retaliation against employees who report discrimination or harassment is prohibited by law and can result in additional legal claims. Your policy should clarify that retaliation will not be tolerated and provide a transparent process for employees to report retaliation if it occurs.

Take Steps to Protect Your Company’s Reputation

Finally, it’s worth noting that discrimination and harassment claims can damage your company’s reputation, even if you ultimately prevail in defending against the claim. Handling all claims with professionalism and sensitivity is important. Avoid discussing the claim with employees who are not directly involved, and avoid making public statements about the claim.

If an employee asserts a discrimination or harassment claim, take swift action to protect your business. Consult a Michigan employment law attorney, conduct an internal investigation, and develop a defense strategy. Proactively minimize risk with established policies and procedures that prevent discrimination and harassment. By taking these steps, you can protect your business and maintain a positive workplace culture.

Maddin Hauser regularly works with employers to develop and implement comprehensive policies, procedures, and employee training programs. To discuss your company’s workforce management needs, please contact Jesse Roth or another attorney in our Employment and Workforce Management group.