Disaster Preparedness for Employers: Fifth Circuit Affirms the Importance of Proactive Practices in Responding to Discrimination and Harassment Complaints 


Blogline Post photo. Serious conversation amongst coworkers

By: Tia Combs and Allison Spears

In Hudson v. Lincare, Inc., the Fifth Circuit provided employers with a roadmap for the proper response to claims of co-worker harassment. As discussed below, the case exemplifies how prompt and deliberate action can avoid a possibly catastrophic situation.  

In Hudson, a sales representative for a medical equipment and services company alleged she was subjected to racial slurs and racially biased comments by a few of her co-workers. The incidents she reported were nothing short of horrific.  

During a sales meeting, the employee’s manager overheard the crude comments. The same day, both the manager and the employee reported the incident to Human Resources. An HR representative contacted the employee within a day for a written statement. HR also launched an investigation and interviewed or took statements from each employee who attended the sales meeting. Within five days of management hearing of the comments, the HR department had fully investigated the matter and issued final warnings to the employees involved that any subsequent use of racial slurs would result in termination.  

The Court determined that the employer’s actions were “reasonably calculated to end the harassment.” Thus, despite the severity of her co-workers’ conduct, the employer was ultimately not liable on a Title VII hostile work environment claim because the employer (1) promptly investigated the employee’s complaint; and (2) took appropriate remedial action.  It is also worth mentioning that, even if the employee had not separately reported the coworker, the supervisor’s quick thinking to also report the co-worker ensured that the employer was able to promptly investigate and respond to the misconduct. 

This case reinforces several important lessons:  

  1. Employers should train all managers and supervisors to promptly report harassment or alleged harassment and discrimination.  
  1. Allegations should be investigated as quickly as possible.  
  1. Once the investigation has concluded, the employer should swiftly take appropriate remedial action.  
  1. Employers should document the remedial action taken, as well as the company’s efforts to ensure employees do not continue to face either harassment or retaliation for making an internal complaint.

For more information, please contact Tia J. Combs ([email protected]) or Allison Spears ([email protected]) or your local FMG attorney.