HR Management & Compliance

Personal Liability Of Supervisors: Latest Ruling Increases Your Risk Of Getting Sued

Late last year, the California Supreme Court ruled that only employers-not individual managers and supervisors-can be forced to pay damages for workplace discrimination claims arising out of routine employment decisions. But the ruling left the door open for lawsuits against individual managers for harassment or retaliation. Now, a new decision illustrates just how easily a common personnel decision such as not hiring or promoting someone can turn into a high-risk retaliation lawsuit against you personally.

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Employee Loses Out On New Job

Doreen Liberto-Black, planning director for the city of Arroyo Grande, brought the recent case. She applied for a new position as the city’s interim parks and recreation director, but another candidate was selected. Liberto-Black sued the city and the city manager, Robert Hunt, claiming the real reason she was turned down was to retaliate against her for filing a sexual harassment charge against another manager several years earlier.

Hunt argued the case against him should be thrown out because he couldn’t be sued personally for refusing to hire Liberto-Black for the new job. But a California federal district court disagreed and gave Liberto-Black the go-ahead to continue her suit. Although supervisors usually can’t be sued for discrimination arising out of run-of-the-mill personnel management actions like hiring, firing and promotions, the court said you can be on the hook personally for harassment or retaliation.

How To Protect Yourself

With the number of retaliation charges on the rise, you may feel that you sometimes face a no-win choice between hiring or promoting an applicant who previously filed a complaint, but isn’t the best one for the job-or getting sued if you turn the person down. Your best course if you find yourself in this type of dilemma is to document clearly and objectively why you chose one candidate over another. While this may not shield you from being sued, it can definitely help you win the case.