What is “materially adverse” when establishing a retaliation claim?

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

Retaliation is the most common workplace discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Generally, retaliation occurs when a worker complains about workplace discrimination and is then targeted by his or her employer for harsher treatment.

Three elements of a prima facie retaliation case.

The Supreme Court expanded the scope of retaliation in Burlington N. & Santa Fe Rwy. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006).  To establish a claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must show:

1)         they engaged in protected activity;

2)         the defendant took action that would be “materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant”; and,

3)         there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the asserted adverse action.

What does “materially adverse” mean?

Materially adverse means harmful enough to “dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.”  Burlington, 548 U.S. 68.

Suspending supervisory responsibilities or significantly reducing responsibilities.

A suspension, demotion, or termination can be materially adverse.  However, taking away an employee’s supervisor duties or significantly reducing their responsibilities can also be materially adverse for the purpose of establishing a retaliation claim. Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 364 (D.C.Cir.2007) (“[W]ithdrawing an employee’s supervisory duties … constitutes an adverse employment action.” (quoting Stewart, 352 F.3d at 426) (internal quotation marks omitted)); id. at 365 (observing that “reassignment… with significantly diminished responsibilities” would constitute an adverse employment action); Kessler v. Westchester County Dep’t of Soc. Serv., 461 F.3d 199 (2d Cir. 2006); Davis v. City of Sioux City, 115 F.3d 1365 (8th .Cir. 1997)

Reprimand or negative job performance evaluation.

A reprimand or negative job performance evaluation can be materially adverse. Nye v. Roberts, No. 03-1683, (4th Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (In this case, however, the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find that, in the context of the Board’s system of progressive discipline, the reprimand and performance evaluation resulted in a material change in Nye’s employment status.); Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046 (8th Cir. 1997) (“…he received much lower performance evaluations than he had received before filing his employment discrimination charge…  There was also evidence that Nash Finch had ‘papered’ his personnel file with negative reports, including two written reprimands.”)

Pursuing false criminal charges.

Pursuing false criminal charges against an employee can be materially adverse. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Rwy. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) (“An employer can effectively retaliate against an employee…Berry v. Stevinson Chevrolet, 74 F. 3d 980, 984, 986 (CA10 1996) (finding actionable retaliation where employer filed false criminal charges against former employee who complained about discrimination).”; Berry v. Stevinson Chevrolet, 74 F.3d 980 (10th Cir. 1996) (“Other courts concluding that Title VII extends to former employees have held that the filing of charges can constitute the requisite adverse action.”); Beckham v. Grand Affair of NC, Inc., 671 F.Supp. 415 (W.D.N.C. 1987)

Creating or perpetuating a hostile work environment.

Retaliatory harassment can constitute an adverse employment action. Von Gunten v. Maryland, 243 F.3d 858, 865 (4th Cir. 2001); Noviello v. City of Boston, 398 F.3d 76 (1st Cir. 2005) (“The weight of authority supports the view that, under Title VII, the creation and perpetuation of a hostile work environment can comprise a retaliatory adverse employment action under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a).  See, e.g., Von Gunten v. Maryland…”).

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

Here’s Why Retaliation Claims Are Easier To Prove In Court Than Discrimination Claims: The FedEx Case

Source: Forbes Magazine

By Eric Bachman

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom
GETTY

Most laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, religion, etc. also make it unlawful to retaliate against someone who complains about or helps to support another person’s claim of discrimination.

While these complementary protections serve a common purpose of helping to stamp out discrimination, an important distinction exists in how courts analyze retaliation versus discrimination claims. That is, different definitions of what constitutes an “adverse employment action” apply depending on whether the lawsuit alleges retaliation or discrimination.

A federal appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, analyzed this issue over the summer in a case involving an employee who claimed that her employer retaliated against her after she filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Factual background

Sheryl Hubbell worked for FedEx SmartPost, Inc. (FedEx) for about eight years until Fed Ex fired her in 2014. While employed, Hubbell filed at least two EEOC charges alleging gender discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it.

Hubbell later sued FedEx in court for terminating her employment in retaliation for filing those EEOC charges.

Hubbell won her trial in district court, and a jury awarded $85,600 in front and back pay damages, $30,000 in non-economic damages, and $300,000 in punitive damages. FedEx appealed the decision, arguing Hubbell’s presented insufficient evidence to support her claim of retaliation.

Legal Analysis

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who has filed a charge with the EEOC. As part of their initial burden of making out a retaliation claim (called the prima facie case), a plaintiff must show that the employer’s conduct was “materially adverse,” which in this case means that “it might well have dissuaded a reasonable working from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006).

meter
Problem, Danger, Risk and Liability words on a speedometer 3d rendering GETTY

FedEx argued that Hubbell did not satisfy the definition of “adverse employment action” under Title VII, which the company cited as conduct that “affect[s] the terms and conditions of employment.” Notably, however, FedEx cited the definition of adverse employment action required of plaintiffs alleging discrimination, not retaliation, under Title VII.

A plaintiff suing under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision must demonstrate that the adverse employment action “might well dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” The definition of adverse employment action under a Title VII retaliation claim is less demanding (and thus easier to meet for employees) than a claim of discrimination.

The trial court had incorrectly held that the only materially adverse action in support of Hubbell’s retaliation claim had to do with her not being able to clock in and out at the same time as her fellow employees. The Sixth Circuit rejected this analysis and found that, under the correct “might well dissuade” standard for retaliation claims, evidence remained of other adverse employment actions taken in retaliation for filing the EEOC charge.

This included evidence showing FedEx subjected Hubbell to increased supervision, specifically that her bathroom breaks were timed and tracked. Hubbell’s supervisor also issued Hubbell written discipline, which she claimed was unjustified and violated company policy.

Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed Hubbell’s jury trial verdict on retaliation.

Key Takeaways

  • The definition of a “materially adverse action” differs between claims of retaliation and claims of discrimination.
  • Discrimination claim definition of “materially adverse action” = “substantially affects the terms and conditions of employment”
  • Retaliation claim definition of “materially adverse action” = an action that “might well have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination” (which can include things like being ostracized, subject to increased scrutiny, etc.)
  • The showing required for a Title VII retaliation claim is thus less burdensome than what a plaintiff must demonstrate for a Title VII discrimination claim.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

Retaliation: Surviving the Employer’s Accusation of Poor Performance or Misconduct.

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

In a workplace, retaliation occurs when an employee complains about or opposes discrimination and is then subject to harsh treatment, such as, harassment or termination.  The harsh treatment must be a direct result of the employee’s complaint about or opposition to discrimination.  In other words, “but for” his or her complaint or opposition, the employee would not have been subject to harsh treatment.

The Supreme Court expanded the scope of retaliation in Burlington N. & Santa Fe Rwy. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006).  To establish a prima facie claim for retaliation, a plaintiff must show:

1)       they engaged in protected activity;

2)       the defendant took action that would be “materially adverse to a reasonable employee or job applicant”; and,

3)       there is a causal connection between the protected activity and the asserted adverse action.

Materially adverse means harmful enough to “dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.”  Burlington, 548 U.S. 68.

To protect itself against a retaliation claim, an employer may accuse an employee, who has a long history of satisfactory job performance, of being a bad employee.  By accusing the employee of poor job performance or misconduct, the employer creates a non-retaliatory excuse for its retaliatory conduct. 

If the employer can advance a non-retaliatory explanation for its action, the employee’s retaliation claim may not meet the “but for” standard and be subject to dismissal by an administrative agency or court.  To counter this, an employee must demonstrate that the employer’s excuse is not believable or mere pretext for retaliatory conduct.

An opportunistic employer may simply wait for an opportunity to accuse the employee of poor performance or misconduct.  However, this ploy may not always succeed. Hamilton v. General Electric, 556 F.3d 428 (6th Cir. 2009) (We have held that when an “employer . . . waits for a legal, legitimate reason to fortuitously materialize, and then uses it to cover up his true, longstanding motivations for firing the employee,” the employer’s actions constitute “the very definition of pretext.”)  An employee who complains about or opposes discrimination should anticipate retaliation and not let their guard down.

Management may conspire against the employee or solicit complaints from the employee’s co-workers.  Under these circumstances, new accusations of poor performance or misconduct may seem contrived. Brady v. Office of Sergeant at Arms, 520 F.3d 490, 496 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (“[t]he question is not whether the underlying…incident occurred; rather, the issue is whether the employer honestly and reasonably believed that the underlying…incident occurred”)  An employee should document his or her experience in the workplace and identify potential witnesses.

If you believe your employer is retaliating against you, seek the advice of an experienced civil rights attorney as soon as possible.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

Cat’s Paw Theory: “Boss set me up!”

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

The Cat’s Paw theory applies to some discrimination and retaliation cases.  If an employee’s supervisor, who is both biased and untruthful, convinces the employer to take an adverse action (i.e. termination, demotion, denial of promotion, suspension, etc.) against the employee, the employer could be found liable for discrimination or retaliation under the Cat’s Paw theory.  Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. 411 (2011)

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Staub v. Proctor Hospital, 562 U.S. 411 (2011), defined an employer’s liability under the Cat’s Paw theory:

  1. a non-decision maker, who is the employee’s supervisor, is motivated by discriminatory (or retaliatory) intent;
  2. the biased non-decision maker performs an act intended to cause the employee to suffer an adverse employment action (i.e. termination, demotion, denial of promotion, suspension, etc.); and,
  3. the biased non-decision maker’s act is a proximate cause of the adverse action.

The term Cat’s Paw comes from a French fable.  A monkey and a cat are sitting in front of a fire.  Chestnuts are roasting in the fire and the monkey wants a chestnut.  So, the monkey convinces the cat to fetch a chestnut out of the fire.  The cat fetches a chestnut but burns his paw in the process.  Meanwhile, the monkey eats the chestnut.

An employer can be found liable for discrimination or retaliation, even if the decision maker is not biased.  Liability can be established if the decision maker relies on a non-decision maker who is biased and untruthful.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

Heightened Scrutiny: Employers look for a legitimate reason to hide retaliation.

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

Retaliation occurs when an employee complains about workplace discrimination and is then targeted for harsher treatment by their employer.  Harsher treatment includes, but are not limited to, refusal to hire, demotion, refusal to promote, harassment, negative performance evaluations, reprimands, termination or a change in hours.  The most frequent form of retaliation is disciplinary action or termination.

An employee may complain that retaliation occurred when the employer “papered” their personnel file with write-ups and negative evaluations after they complained about workplace discrimination.  In its defense, the employer may argue that retaliation did not occur because the write-ups and negative evaluations were based on the employee’s poor job performance or misconduct.

Even if the write-ups and negative evaluations were based on the employee’s poor job performance or misconduct, retaliation can still occur if the derogatory documentation was a result of “heightened scrutiny”.  Under heightened scrutiny, the employer observes the employee more closely than it otherwise would while waiting for opportunities to discipline the employee. Hamilton v. General Electric, 556 F.3d 428 (6th Cir. 2009) (We have held that when an “employer . . . waits for a legal, legitimate reason to fortuitously materialize, and then uses it to cover up his true, longstanding motivations for firing the employee,” the employer’s actions constitute “the very definition of pretext.”)

In a case of heightened scrutiny, an employer acts like a spider patiently waiting for unsuspecting prey to become entangled in its web.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

“Papering” an employee’s personnel file: Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

“Papering” an employee’s personnel file: Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde

Employers are advised to document the job performance of their employees. The documentation of job performance is particularly important when an employer is accusing an employee of poor job performance.  Write-ups and negative job performance evaluations can justify adverse actions, such as, denial of promotion, demotion, or termination.

However, unjustified write-ups and negative job performance evaluations may be evidence of discrimination and retaliation.  A careful examination of the personnel file portrays an employee who goes from being Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde: a good employee suddenly becomes a bad employee.  This can raise suspicion and expose an employer to liability.

“Papering” occurs when an employer deliberately packs an employee’s personnel file with unjustified write-ups and negative job performance evaluations in order to justify an adverse action.  For instance, an employer can “paper” an employee’s personnel file by the following methods:

  • An employer may hold the employee to a higher standard than “similarly situated employees”.
  • An employer may scrutinize an employee.
  • An employer may singled out the employee for criticism or disciplinary action.
  • An employer may create a hostile work environment that interferes with the employee’s ability to perform their job.
  • An employer may solicit criticism of the employee from their co-workers and supervisors.
  • An employer may incite the employee’s co-workers and supervisors against them.
  • An employer may deliberately give the employee false write-ups and negative job performance evaluations.

Employers can use “papering” to cover-up discrimination and retaliation. Kim v. Nash Finch Co., 123 F.3d 1046 (8th Cir. 1997) (“…he received much lower performance evaluations than he had received before filing his employment discrimination charge…  There was also evidence that Nash Finch had ‘papered’ his personnel file with negative reports, including two written reprimands.”); Etefia v. East Baltimore Cmty. Corp., 2 F.Supp. 751 (D. Md. 1998) (the court determined that the issue of whether documentation of the employee’s job difficulties was part of a plan to terminate him based on discrimination precluded summary judgment.)

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

COVID-19: Employment Discrimination

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

In the spring of 2020, COVID-19 caused massive disruption in the United States. Within a few months, millions of workers became unemployed due to COVID-19 related layoffs. According to the U.S. Labor Department figures, in April 2020, the number of unemployment workers exceeded those of the Great Depression, and Hispanics and African Americans workers were especially impacted. COVID-19 related layoffs disproportionately affected older and disabled workers.

According to AARP, when the overall U.S. unemployment rate spiked from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April, the unemployment rate for women 55 and older rose even more: from 3.3% to 15.5%. The unemployment rate for men 55+ also soared, though a little bit less, from 3.4% to 12.1%.

Some employers see COVID-19 related layoffs as an opportunity to eliminate older workers. To these employers, older workers represent higher salaries and higher expenses due to insurance costs and paid time off due to illness. Some employers may have a similar attitude about disabled workers.

According to a May 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report, the number of working-age people with disabilities who were employed decreased by 950,000 between March and April (from 4,772,000 to 3,827,000), a 20 percent reduction.

Nonetheless, federal workplace anti-discrimination laws still apply. A worker can not be discrimination against and/or harassed based on their race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically warned employers about discriminatory layoffs. According to the EEOC, an employer should “review the process to determine if it will result in the disproportionate dismissal of older employees, employees with disabilities or any other group protected by federal employment discrimination laws”.

COVID-19 layoff can facilitate sexual harassment. Supervisors can use the threat of a COVID-19 related layoff to force subordinates to submit to unwanted sexual advances.

The earliest cases of COVID-19 occurred in China. As a result, Asian and Asian American workers have become targets for workplace discrimination/harassment.

Discrimination

Employers can deliberately use COVID-19 as a pretext to discriminate against and/or harass workers based on their race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability. Here are examples of illegal workplace discrimination:

1. you are laid off, while workers of a different race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or without a disability are not;

2. you are denied a promotion or increase in pay, while workers of a different race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or without a disability are not;

3. you are demotion or given a reduction in pay, while workers of a different race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or without a disability are not;

4. you are given an undesirable assignment or shift, while workers of a different race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or without a disability are not; and,

5. you are being verbally or physically harassed, while workers of a different race, sex, national origin, religion, age, or without a disability are not.

Retaliation

Federal workplace anti-discrimination laws also prohibit retaliation. Retaliation occurs when a worker is mistreated because they complained about discrimination. Here are examples of retaliation:

  1. undesirable transfers

2. unwarranted disciplinary action

3. harassment

4. refusal of deserved promotion or pay increase

5. demotion or pay reduction

6. termination of employment

Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an adverse action against a worker that is designed to stop a worker from complaining about discrimination/harassment. The adverse action should occur shortly after the worker complains.

Consult an attorney

If you are a victim of discrimination or retaliation, consult an experienced civil rights attorney.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

COVID-19: Workers have legal protection from workplaces that can cause serious imminent harm.

By Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

Workers should not have to risk their health in order to earn a living. There are federal laws, as well as state and local laws, that protect workers from workplaces that can cause serious imminent harm. State and local laws vary, but some state and local laws offer workers more protection than federal laws. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many states and cities have expanded their protection laws. For example, Michigan prohibits employers from firing workers who stay home for certain reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Workers with a disability (hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, etc,) that puts them at higher risk from COVID-19 can request a reasonable accommodation that reduces their exposure to COVID-19 under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation, as long as, doing so does not cause an undue hardship. The worker and their employer must engage in an interactive process. A worker who believes their employer has violated their ADA rights can file a discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Workers are protected from retaliation, such as, being fired or demoted.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 ensures that private sector workers have safe and healthy working conditions. Any worker can refuse to work if their workplace can cause serious imminent harm. A worker can complain to their employer about safety issues and even refuse to work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause, requires employers to guarantee their employees a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” If a worker believes that their workplace can cause serious imminent harm, they can file a complaint against their employer with OSHA. Workers are protected from retaliation, such as, being fired or demoted.

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)

The National Labor Relations Board offers protection for workers who believe that their workplace is “abnormally dangerous”. Workers can complain to their employer about safety issues and even refuse to work. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives workers the right to “strike for health and safety reasons”. If a worker or group of workers believes that their workplace is abnormally dangerous, they can file a complaint against their employer with NLRB. Workers are protected from retaliation, such as, being fired or demoted.

Word of caution: Consult an experienced civil rights attorney before taking action.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

EEOC Complaints: Everything You Need to Know

Source: UpCounsel

A company with more than 14 employees are subject to the EEOC stepping in. 

What Are EEOC Complaints?

EEOC complaints are handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the body responsible for investigating discrimination complaints based on religion, race, national origin, color, age, sex, and disability. A company with more than 14 employees is subject to the EEOC stepping in. Every employee has the right to file an EEOC complaint, not only those who feel like they have been discriminated against.

Inspection Procedure

The employer supplies documents and other information relevant to the case when a worker files a complaint. These items include copies of HR policies and any personnel files after the EEOC has followed up with a formal request. Although disruptive to the company and overall operations, the EEOC staff may also visit the office.

During the work day, the staff may ask the employer for employee interviews. The EEOC can still contact employees outside of work without the employer’s permission. Even if an EEOC complaint has numerous advantages, the employer is going to have to invest time, effort, and sometimes money to deal with it. The EEOC notifies the employer and then asks for a “statement of position,” granting an opportunity to hear the story from this perspective.

Typical EEOC Complaint Investigation Proceedings

The activities carried out are just for finding facts; information found by the EEOC is used to figure out if the complaint requires further action. From there, the process will turn into a formal investigation, which takes up more money and time. A typical EEOC investigation period lasts six months, but each case varies.

During this time, the employer may be prohibited from destroying documents of any kind without prior permission. Employers should hire a lawyer for counsel. 

Robin Shea, who is a partner in a law firm, says employers can influence an investigation, especially when not working with a lawyer. By unintentionally admitting a violation occurred or providing too many details, employers moving forward without a lawyer can turn even the most trivial complaint into a full-blown investigation.

How Does an EEOC Complaint Hurt an Employer?

Once the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives a complaint that an employer illegally discriminated against its workers, that employer may be in for a long period of legal issues.

During the ensuing months, time-consuming official requests are made to acquire more information in addition to or in the form of:

  • Intrusive investigations
  • Large legal bills
  • Negative publicity
  • Expensive damages (if the complaint is upheld)

EEOC Complaints and Costs of Litigation

Employers can avoid an EEOC investigation if they agree to attempt to mediate or settle the complaint. This will likely result in the employer having to change its procedures and policies. They may also be responsible for compensating anyone who complained. However, employers don’t have to admit any liability or guilt, and agreements remain private.

The EEOC may sue the employer if said employer will not mediate, or if the EEOC determines the case goes beyond what mediation could offer and is far more serious. The employees who filed the complaint can still sue even if the EEOC decides not to. Regardless of who sues, litigation proceedings are a considerable cost for the employer and can produce some bad publicity, as well.

Indemnifications and Penalties

This depends on the nature of the complaint, but may include paying back wages, reinstating their job, or giving them a promotion. In addition, employers will be required to pay the complainants’ court and legal fees. However, things definitely get more expensive if there’s a trial.

Damages will be awarded to any employees who filed complaints by the court. Damages are as follows:

  • 15 to 100 employees: $50,000 per person
  • 101 to 200 employees: $100,000 per person
  • 201 to 300 employees: $200,000 per person
  • More than 300 workers: $300,000 per person

For the Employee: How to File an EEOC Charge of Discrimination

When facing workplace harassment or discrimination, your first step should be complaining internally using the procedures detailed in your employee handbook or other policies outlined in the onboarding process. When your complaints aren’t met or you feel unsatisfied, you may file a discrimination complaint with the EEOC or a similar agency in your state to handle these proceedings.

The EEOC has a very well-defined process for handling complaints compared to most government agencies. It usually operates through a network of offices and places strict deadlines for complaint filing, usually ranging from around 90 days and up to almost a year. Employees are advised to pay close attention to the deadline when deciding to file against something they believe is illegal or discriminatory in the workplace.

If you think your rights have been violated, think about filing discrimination claims with the EEOC. They will reach out to both you and your employer within 10 days. Shortly after, they will begin the investigation of your claim. If they find that your employer violated anti-discrimination laws, the options are a settlement with the employer or taking the case to court.

You may also file a complaint as a U.S. citizen employed by a U.S.-based company that has operations abroad. Simply file your charge(s) with the EEOC district office in the city or state closest to your employer’s U.S.-based headquarters.

What to Do Before Filing Charges

Things you will be asked when filing:

  • Personal information, including name, telephone number, and address
  • The above information of your employer, plus the number of employees in regard to your employer/employment agency or any other alleged entity part of the discrimination
  • A short description of the alleged violation
  • Date(s) of when the discrimination/alleged violation(s) took place

If you are a federal employee, have a look at the agency’s Overview of Federal Sector EEO Complaint Process. Note that the EEOC does not process discrimination charges online. The EEOC’s online assessment tool is designed to assist in determining whether filing charges with the agency is the best course of action.

Where to File

Complaints can be filed at local equal employment opportunity agency offices. These are state and local agencies (not federal) that are official representatives of the EEOC. A state that has its own equal employment opportunity laws will be allowed 300 days after the act of discrimination occurred to file the complaint. A state that does not have its own equal employment opportunity laws only has 180 days to file.

Filing a Title VII Lawsuit

When you file your discrimination claim with the EEOC, be aware that the agency pursues only a small fraction of the charges it receives. If EEOC does not act on your complaint within 180 days, you are responsible for requesting a right-to-sue letter that authorizes you to file a lawsuit in federal court against the offending employer.

Upon receiving the right-to-sue letter, you have only a short period (90 days) to file a lawsuit, so be mindful of the deadlines for the Title VII process. The EEOC’s out-of-pocket expenses are limited by law to $5,000 per lawsuit—thousands of dollars less than it typically costs to take an employment discrimination case to court.

Time Limits for Filing Charges

Employees are advised to contact the EEOC immediately after you believe there is any discrimination on behalf of your employer. You’ll have less than a year (300 days) to file.

Tips for Dealing With the EEOC

Keep these things in mind to help get your claim through the EEOC bureaucracy in the most efficient manner:

  • Be vigilant and check in with the EEOC to learn more and discuss your case.
  • Be assertive and bring any additional EEOC issues to the attention of whoever is helping you with your case.
  • Read—and reread—any fine print to be sure to give a detailed look before signing anything.

Keep options open when filing for an EEOC complaint. Keep in mind that you still have the ability to try to solve the issue(s) at hand on your own or go through the complaint procedure suggested by the company.

Retaliation for Discrimination Complaints

Whether the file is with a state civil rights commission or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, many worry that their employer will seek retribution after, since they’re not above discriminating or allowing discrimination. The law prohibits this type of retaliation.

Grounds for discrimination complaints are strong when an employee was fired due to his or her race, or was denied an accommodation for his or her disability. Whether it’s believed you were denied a promotion due to your age, or were harassed because of your religion, you may win or lose your claim.

The EEOC, or other civil rights enforcement agencies, make protecting the process’s integrity a high priority. Any company can by prosecuted for seeking retribution. 

Any person that filed a discrimination complaint should be careful not to alter their behavior. A common fear is that their employer might now be “afraid of them” and can take this as an opportunity to let them go or fire them, for example. In the aftermath of a complaint, both sides will need to monitor behavior more closely and any and all actions will be more carefully documented during this time.

What to Do If Retaliated Against

Should you decide to exercise your rights under the anti-discrimination laws and your employer responds negatively toward you for doing so, you can take action in return. If the complaint was made internally within the company, first talk to the person who took your original complaint or speak directly with the company’s HR department.

When you file your charge of retaliation, you’ll need to review the incident, including when and who the person responsible was. Give as much detail as possible.

What Is Retaliation?

This simply means an employee has been discriminated against because they have filed a complaint.

Employees are protected from retaliation or from participating in an investigation when it comes to harassment or discrimination. For example, an employer may not fire an employee simply because the employee reaches out to an EEOC investigator or supports a colleague’s complaint against discrimination at the company.

EEOC Actions

Once the charge is filed, the EEOC can respond in a number of ways. It will most certainly ask your employer to respond to your allegations and might proceed to investigate your claims or send you and your employer to mediation. Mediation is an amicable step to try to resolve the dispute informally, as is trying to broker a settlement directly with your employer.

If the EEOC doesn’t resolve the problem with one of the above methods, it can choose to file a lawsuit against the employer for you.

Common Reasons for Not Filing Complaints

Here are a few frequently heard explanations:

  • “It takes too much time.” If a case is hard-fought and goes to federal trial, it can take years (even on appeal), though few cases run that course.
  • “I don’t want to be seen as a whiner.” An employee who doesn’t believe in the anti-discrimination laws will often have this perspective.
  • “Even after what I’ve been through, I don’t want to hurt my boss.” Often, employees tend to be scared to hurt their boss and never wants to file a complaint against their supervisors.
  • “I don’t want to be disloyal to my company.” Correcting unfairness ultimately will make an employer more effective by ending a bad corporate practice.
  • “I don’t have, or can’t afford, a lawyer.” Some employees simply might not have the funds to work with a lawyer.

People have been advised to come up and report illegal discrimination. However, some groups appear even more cautious than others, like immigrant groups or Asian Pacific Americans, who file discrimination complaints at a lower rate than other groups.

Schedule a Consultation With a Civil Rights Attorney

It’s difficult to take action for your civil liberties and civil rights violations on your own. When you begin to feel that either of these have been violated, then you should talk to an attorney to get a professional opinion. An experienced civil rights attorney knows the differences between these basic rights and can help you with a possible claim.

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer

What Actions Can Be Considered Workplace Retaliation?

Woman at desk, head bowed over computer, as she grapples alone with illegal retaliation in her workplace

Retaliation is revenge and can conjure up notions of Liam Neeson going after his daughter’s kidnappers in “Taken.” Workplace retaliation isn’t quite so dramatic. Or at least, it’s hopefully not quite that dramatic.

But workplace retaliation can be devastating, and it can (but doesn’t always) break the law. Understanding the rules around workplace retaliation is critical for Human Resources staff members, managers, and anyone who has a position of influence in the business.

What Does Retaliation Look Like?

Jane comes to HR and says,

John keeps asking me out on dates. I have told him no and asked him to stop.

John is a high performer, so you transfer Jane to another less desirable shift.

This is a classic case of retaliation: Jane complained about sexual harassment, and you punished her by moving her to a different shift. Now, you may say “but her pay remains the same, her title and seniority weren’t affected. This isn’t retaliation. And besides, Jane didn’t even say it was sexual harassment.”

The employee doesn’t have to use the magic words to receive legal protection for their actions. Jane complained about unwanted sexual behavior in her department; therefore it’s a sexual harassment complaint. The transfer retaliates against Jane.

Bob has 40,000 Twitter followers, including several coworkers. He posts a picture of his paystub with the caption, “Can you believe that Acme Inc. pays such terrible wages?”.

One of his coworkers take a screenshot and presents it to you. Bob named the company, and many people have replied and retweeted his tweet. As a result, you call Bob into the office and tell him that he has violated the company’s social media policy, and for doing such, you are suspending him for two weeks without pay.

This is illegal retaliation for concerted activities. According to the National Labor Relations Board:

If employees are fired, suspended, or otherwise penalized for taking part in a protected group activity, the National Labor Relations Board will fight to restore what was unlawfully taken away.

In other words, employees are allowed to discuss their working conditions with their coworkers, and talking about pay is covered by that law. It doesn’t matter that many others saw it on Twitter. The National Labor Relations Board still considers his comments concerted action.

Now, of course, there cases where retaliation is much more distinctly visible. Steve complains of racial discrimination. You immediately fire Steve for a poor attitude. But activities and actions like transfers  are a lot more difficult to pin down.

Is Retaliation Always Illegal?

It’s not. Retaliation is only illegal when the action that precedes the retaliation is protected by law. This can vary from state to state. It’s always illegal to retaliate against an employee for actions such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and concerted workplace activities. Some states have whistleblower protections that protect employees who bring up any variety of illegal activities, but not all.

If an employee makes a complaint that is unfounded, retaliation can be legal, and it can be illegal. For instance, if Jane complains that John is sexually harassing her, and you investigate and find out that actually John just asked her out one time. Factually, you found that Jane said no and he never bothered her again.

But, you still cannot retaliate against Jane as long as she genuinely believed that John behaved illegally. But, if you investigate and find out that Jane wanted John’s better shift, so she made up her complaint, then you can take action and retaliate.

The critical issue is that an employee must have a sincere belief that what they reported is illegal. Otherwise, retaliation is allowed.

Retaliation Doesn’t Stop Consequences

You may have a situation in which an employee is a poor performer, and just before you were going to discipline or terminate the employee, he files a complaint. That complaint doesn’t negate any other performance or employee actions. However, if you don’t have the documentation before the claim, acting after he files the complaint will look like illegal retaliation.

If you have documentation, you can continue along the disciplinary path, but do consider that the poor performance is a result of the harassment or discrimination, rather than an entirely separate situation.

How Do You Stop Retaliation?

Making a simple policy of “no retaliation” won’t solve all of your problems. (Of course, a policy never solves all problems.) You have to consider each situation carefully and on its own merits. Going back to Jane and John, how do you respond? If you determine John’s behavior wasn’t severe enough for punishment, yet Jane doesn’t wish to work with him anymore, how do you proceed?

If you transferred John to the less desirable shift, you are punishing him for something he didn’t do. Transferring Jane is retaliation as long as she had a sincere belief that John harassed her. Resolving such a situation can take serious negotiation and careful thought.

You may also need to sit down with Jane and explain why John’s behavior was not harassment, and that if she wishes to move to a different shift, you can do that, but otherwise, she still has to work with John. Explain to her that to transfer John when you have concluded that he did no wrong—is the wrong decision for the business.

You need to train your managers not to retaliate, and to report all protected complaints to HR. That will help you ensure that no retaliatory decisions happen and that you investigate all potential allegations.

Remember, if an employee sues you and you win on the facts, you can still lose on reported retaliation if you treated the complainant poorly. That’s why it’s critical to think through your actions before you take them and even consider discussing the right course of action with an employment law attorney.

 

Law Office of Bryan A. Chapman

Contact:

Bryan A. Chapman, Esquire

(202) 508-1499

bchapman@baclaw.com

http://www.baclaw.com

Join Facebook group: I Need A Discrimination Lawyer