“I’ve filed a Human Rights Commission complaint of discrimination. Is there anything else I can do now?”

Question: Dear Alan: I was told about your blog by a friend two months ago after she heard I was having problems with my boss. Since then I have been reading your blog, and learning from your advice. Today I have the courage to write and ask for your help.

I worked for my employer for 3-1/2 years as an analyst. Nine months ago, I was assigned a new boss, and that is when the problems started. From day one, he psychologically harassed me, put me down in front of others, criticized my accent (I am an immigrant), scheduled unreasonable deadlines, and falsely claimed I missed deadlines.

Before I worked for this boss, my work was always praised. Even though I was doing the job of four analysts who left but were not replaced, I not only did my work on time, but also trained several other analysts in how to do things. My internal clients were always pleased with my work, and praised me all the time, yet my boss constantly yelled, criticized and told me I was worthless.

I should mention that I am female, my boss is male, and all other analysts at this company are male.

At the end of 2009 I decided that this should end, so I scheduled a meeting with my boss, and asked him if we could “start fresh” in the new coming year. His response was, “Go find another job.” I then made an appointment with HR to explain what my issues with my boss were. The day before, I was placed on a Corrective Action Plan (you call this a Performance Improvement Plan). I responded to it with a 12-page response, most of which talked about the hostility I received because I am a woman. Shortly after that, I was fired.

I filed a Claim of Discrimination with our State Human Rights Board, and for this the company refused to pay me any severance. An attorney who I consulted said that my filing a complaint nullified my severance offer, and the only way out of this is to continue the claim of discrimination. What do you think? Do I have a strong case? I really need any advice you can give me.

          Chicago, Illinois

Answer:    F. B., from what you have written, I would say you have three things you might do.

First, you can always continue with your Human Rights Board claim of discrimination. From what you have written, it seems to me that you may very well have a claim of different treatment based on your gender. It seems pretty strong to me, from what you’ve written.

Second, you seem to also have a very strong case of illegal retaliation, because it seems that you were treated even worse after you made your appointment with Human Resources to complain about the way your boss treats you. It is just as much a violation of law – some would say even a worse violation of law – to take action against a person because he or she has complained of gender discrimination, than the original discrimination is, itself. You might ask the State Human Rights Board if you can amend your original complaint of discrimination to add a new, and worse, charge: retaliation.

Third, while it is true that your filing a complaint of discrimination against your boss probably makes any severance offer to you now void, you or an attorney on your behalf should consider contacting the company’s Human Resources department to see if they would like to “settle” your complaint for a reasonable amount of severance. They may want to avoid legal expense, and avoid a possible finding on your behalf. It doesn’t hurt to try. To give yourself more leverage, you might first amend the complaint to add the retaliation claim.

I know that this is a very, very difficult time for you. I hope this helps. I also hope that, in the future, if this ever happens again, you will email your next boss each time he or she acts in a hostile, harassing or discriminatory way, describing what happened, and asking that it not happen again. This way, you will have a “paper trail” of evidence to make any complaint to Human Resources, or your State Human Rights Board, that much more powerful and effective for you.

I hope this helps, I really, really do.

         Best, Al Sklover

© 2010 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.