Our federal laws make it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any employee based on certain recognized protected characteristics. Those protected characteristics include race and age. Those same federal laws also prohibit retaliation against employees for opposing discrimination or participating in the complaint process. You may be surprised to discover that the most common type of employment discrimination claims filed by federal employees is retaliation.
Statistics from 2014 federal employee workforce report
According to a 2014 report, retaliation heads the list of EEO claims filed by federal employees, with a total of 7,018 retaliation claims filed. Age discrimination complaints came in second, with a total of 4,697; race discrimination in third, with a total of 3,838; and finally disability discrimination, with a total of 3,817. The same ranking is true for the period from 2010 through 2014.
What does “opposition” mean in retaliation cases?
Under Title VII, the federal anti-discrimination law, employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees because they “oppose[d] any practice made an unlawful employment practice” under the law. An employee who opposes actions taken by an employer that violate Title VII has engaged in protected activity under the law. The term “opposition” can simply mean making a complaint, which can be formal or informal. It can also be a complaint made internally with the employer, as well as, complaints to outside agencies like the EEOC.
What does “participation” mean in retaliation cases?
With regard to retaliation claims, the term “participation” refers to testifying or assisting in an investigation into discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. Under federal law, any employee who cooperates or participates in an EEOC investigation, or serves as a witness in investigations, as well as litigation, are also protected.
Retaliation is basically punishment
Punishment of any kind that is doled out because an employee complained of discrimination is considered unlawful retaliation, which is prohibited in the workplace. Punishment of this type can include various types of employment decisions such as demotion, termination, disciplinary actions, reduction in salary, and reassignment. However, retaliation can also take more subtle forms.
How serious does the retaliation need to be to be actionable?
It is important to remember that not every type of punishment rises to the level of actionable retaliation. The action must result in an adverse effect on the employee’s job. In addition to the obvious adverse actions (termination and demotion), unfair performance reviews, threats of termination and micromanagement or harassment could also be sufficient to support a claim.
What are the facts necessary to prove an unlawful retaliation claim?
In order to establish a claim for unlawful retaliation, employees need to prove the following elements:
- The employee engaged in protected activity
- The employee suffered some adverse action
- There is a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action
An experienced employment discrimination attorney can help you determine if you have sufficient evidence to support a retaliation claim.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or
retaliation, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.