Before we get started on this post, let's agree on three basic concepts about call centers:
-Big, volume-driven Call Centers are the production lines of the new millennium;
-To keep the employee relations madness to a minimum in call centers, most companies try to be uber-consistent in the application of policy within Call Centers; and
-When you try to enforce consistency in call centers through items like No-Fault Attendance Policies, you're gong to make it rain EEOC charges.
About once a year though, there's one that goes to trial with a jury verdict involving $$$ that opens your eyes. This year's winner to me? The EEOC today announced a favorable jury verdict of $756,000 in a religious discrimination lawsuit brought against AT&T Inc. on behalf of two male customer service technicians who were suspended and fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses Convention. From the EEOC press release:
"The jury of nine women and three men awarded the two former employees, Jose Gonzalez and Glenn Owen (brothers-in-law), $296,000 in back pay and $460,000 in compensatory damages under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. During the four-day trial, the jury heard evidence that both men had submitted written requests to their manager in January 2005 for one day of leave to attend a religious observance that was scheduled for Friday, July 15, to Sunday, July 17, 2005. Both men testified that they had sincerely held religious beliefs that required them to attend the convention each year. Both men had attended the convention every year throughout their employment with AT&T -- Gonzalez worked at the company for more than eight years and Owen was employed there for nearly six years."
I've supported big call centers from in an HR capacity before, so let me give you a synopsis of what likely happened with this one. The employees in question had always gone to the event, so they put in their request way ahead of time and forgot about it. In the months that followed, a new management team arrived and started to tighten the screws from an attendance perspective, to the extent they felt compelled to say no to the request for time off that was previously made. The denial could be for one of 100 reasons. Dialog ensued (hopefully), but the conversations didn't resolve the issue. The time-off was still unexcused.
So the call center reps went to the convention anyway. When they got back, they found their stuff boxed up and their employment terminated, maybe on an auto-termination clause like job abandonment. They took it to the EEOC, who agreed to represent the employees in the legal action moving forward, which is rare. Having had the convention approved eight years in a row makes it pretty attractive to a litigator.
The crazy part of this? It likely had nothing to do with discrimination. It was more likely driven by the desire to be CONSISTENT. That desire is good 98% of the time. The other 2% of the time makes you value a good exception to the rule...