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Workplace Retaliation for 20-Year-Old Protected Activity


Bringing a successful employment retaliation claim in court requires establishing that you engaged in protected activity, such as filing an EEOC charge or complaining of employment discrimination. You must also show that your employer took adverse action against you in retaliation for that protected activity. In a very interesting case out of Pennsylvania, a married couple was able to pursue a retaliation claim for protected activity that occurred 20 years in the past.

The curious history of Brugh v. Mount Aloysius College

This interesting case began back in 1992 when the plaintiff, Larry Brugh, served as a witness in a race discrimination case against Mount Aloysius College. The college had planned to hire a Black coach for the men’s basketball team until it was discovered that he was part of an interracial marriage. Larry Brugh heard the Dean of Student make a statement that the applicant would not be hired for that reason. Brugh immediately expressed his opposition to that statement, indicating that refusing to hire him on that basis was race discrimination.

The Athletic Director at that time also opposed the decision not to hire the coach and he was subsequently terminated. Brugh testified on behalf of the Athletic Director. Larry Brugh and his wife (who was also an employee of the College) alleged that they suffered retaliation back in the 90’s as a result of the husband’s participation in the discrimination lawsuit.

Recent retaliatory actions

This earlier participation in a claim of race discrimination was brought up in 2011 and 2012 by college administrators. Some of those administrators began to warn people from associating with Larry Brugh specifically because of his participation. The husband alleges that, during this time, he was demoted. Less than three months later, he was terminated with one of the reasons stated that his attorney had sent a letter to college officials complaining of the discriminatory actions that were being taken against Brugh. There were no reasons given that related to performance. Larry Brugh’s wife was also terminated after her 20+ year tenure with the school.

Recent lawsuit for discrimination and retaliation

Of course, the college moved to dismiss the lawsuit because the alleged protected activity had occurred more than 20 years ago. However, the court denied the motion based on the letter from the husband’s attorney to the college in late September 2012. This letter could be seen as direct evidence of retaliation because it specifically mentioned allegations of retaliation based on the prior incidents in the 1990s and the letter was mentioned as one of the reasons for Brugh’s termination. The Court found this to be direct evidence of retaliation.

It is generally understood that retaliation is illegal. If an employee engages in some form of protected activity and his employer takes negative action against him for that reason, the employer has violated the law. The same is true for reporting or complaining about improper conduct by your employer.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!

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