A recent federal court case from Mississippi underscores the value of workplace investigations in Title VII claims. Davenport v. Nissan N. Am., Inc. (S.D. Miss. 2015).
A female autoworker at a Nissan plant alleged her male line-leader exposed himself to her. However, she did not report the alleged incident to the employer, and Nissan did not learn of it until two months later when she told a coworker who tipped off Human Resources. Nissan immediately conducted an investigation and took corrective action, but the employee nevertheless filed suit.
Nissan petitioned the court to dismiss the case. Because the line-leader was not a supervisor, the court ruled the complainant had to show the employer “knew or should have known” about the harassment and failed to take prompt remedial action. The court went on to note that, upon hire, the complainant signed an acknowledgement that she had read the employee handbook, which stated that she agreed to “immediately report any incidents that violate [employer] policies,” yet she failed to do so. The court added that the complainant’s delay in reporting the incident prevented the employer from conducting an investigation more quickly.
Based on the complainant’s failure to report and the employer’s prompt action, the court granted Nissan’s motion to dismiss the case on summary judgment.
This ruling demonstrates the advantage of conducting prompt and objective investigations. Investigations can protect employees from unlawful conduct and shield employers from liability under Title VII.