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HR Professional Can’t Be Fired for Encouraging EEOC Charge

Andrea Gogel was a Team Relations Manager for a Kia manufacturing plant in Georgia. As a part of her job, she was required to facilitate a positive work culture and investigate claims of discrimination.
A Kia female employee came to her with a complaint of favoritism between the Korean-national president of Kia and a woman he was reputedly involved with. Ms. Gogel took the complaint to her boss and she claims she was ordered not to pursue it. This same female employee also complained about other conduct that she perceived as sexist over the next couple of years. This employee filed suit against Kia. During this same time period, Ms. Gogel observed that she was not given a department title equal to that of her male colleague. She believed she was being discriminated against based on her sex and retaliated against for investigating the complaint against Kia’s president. She filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charge of discrimination. In response, management asked her to sign a document agreeing not to discuss her EEOC charge or claims like it with other employees or solicit others to make claims. Sometime later, Kia accused Ms. Gogel of colluding with the complaining female employee to file an EEOC charge and referring the employee to a lawyer. She was fired.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals revived Ms. Gogel’s retaliation claim upon its review. Kia had argued that a human resources professional helping another employee file a discrimination charge was not protected activity and unreasonable. Noting that there is a balance when considering an HR employee’s opposition to employment practices, the court indicated that it varied based on the circumstances. Where an employee tried to resolve the complaint internally but was unable to because of the failures within the employer’s procedures, supporting an employee going outside to protect himself or herself may be reasonable. Here Kia allegedly thwarted her attempts to pursue the allegations for years and it was only then that Ms. Gogel provided help to the employee outside of the company.