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Discrimination Complaints

Claims of workplace discrimination are fraught—fraught with legal risk, the danger that employee harm is occurring, and possibly hard costs associated with employee turnover, lost productivity, and damage to the organization’s reputation. Becoming skilled at managing such claims, of course, takes experience, but it also requires the investigator to take the initiative to become educated regarding best practices and leveraging external expertise when needed.

Upon receipt of a discrimination complaint, your first task is to RESPOND. Your response, however, must be prompt, measured, and consistent. You must be impartial, never defensive or dismissive, and remain open to the possibility/probability that the claim has merit. Even if you ultimately discount the complaint, that decision should be deliberate.

Visit the pages below to learn more about the response steps and challenges involved in managing an employment discrimination complaint.

  • Intake: Understand the right questions to ask and how to ask them to best uncover the full scope of the complaint.

  • Credibility: Determining the veracity of the complaint can be challenging. Learn about some considerations for assessing the credibility of the complaint.

  • Investigation: Review some special considerations for the proper conduct of a workplace discrimination investigation.

  • Corrective/Disciplinary Action: Taking action consistent with the findings of the investigation may require dispensing corrective or disciplinary action. Best practices are discussed here.

  • Documentation: Identify protocols for documenting your investigation, its findings, and any follow-up action taken.

  • Prevention & Education: Investigations are best undertaken with an objective to uncover the root cause(s) of the problem. This page offers a discussion of prevention and education strategies to address root causes and prevent future problems.

Although standards and practices for workplace investigations should be largely consistent regardless of the nature of the complaint, discrimination complaints require some special considerations. For example, the U. S. Department of Labor[1] (DOL) notes that the burden of proof varies and shifts depending on the specific nature of the complaint under investigation. The DOL advises that you consider which legal theory applies to the case (e.g., disparate treatment, adverse impact, hostile work environment, etc.) and use it to guide the planning of your investigative effort. Careful attention must also be paid to ensuring that no retaliation takes place in response to the complaint, which can form a separate basis for complaint (and legal liability).

Each of the linked pages above discusses the major milestones of a discrimination investigation in greater detail and further clarifies specific requirements for handling such complaints. Take some time to review the pages, and contact Natalie Lynch for the additional expertise and support you need to properly handle employment discrimination concerns.

Cite this article: Lee, L. M. (2016). Discrimination Complaints. Available:


[1] U. S. Department of Labor. (n.d.). Practical tips for investigating discrimination complaints. Retrieved from