Typically, a successful retaliation claim involves demonstrating that an employee suffered some adverse employment action, like discipline or termination, shortly after engaging in a protected activity, such as filing an EEOC charge or making an internal complaint about discrimination. That may sound pretty simple, but there are three very common reasons that retaliation claims fail. A recent case involving an allegedly disabled employee who complained about discrimination and then faced termination demonstrates that retaliation claims are not always easy to prove.
The Case of Hazelwood v. Highland Hospital
In this case out of New York, the hearing-impaired employee claimed she requested an accommodation. After she started receiving complaints about her performance, she complained that she was being subjected to discrimination based on her disability. Shortly after making her complaints, she was terminated. There were three reasons that the court dismissed the employee's claims in that case. First, the court found that her complaints were not made in good faith. Second, she was terminated too long after her complaints were made. Third, she was having performance issues long before she complained.
Protected Activity Must Be Done in Good Faith
A successful retaliation claim requires legally protected conduct. Basically, anti-retaliation laws prevent employers from taking punitive action against an employee who engages in activity that is protected by the law. In this particular case, the disabled employee’s complaints of discrimination were found to be conclusory and made in bad faith. In other words, there was no reason for the employee to have believed the actions about which she complained were based on any type of discrimination or violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
There Must be a Causal Connection
Another required element of a retaliation claim is evidence that establishes there was a causal connection between the protected activity in which the employee engaged and the resulting adverse employment action. One of the most common ways to establish the required causal connection is by showing a “temporal nexus” between the two – that is the protected activity was closely followed by the adverse action. In this New York case, the employee was not terminated until ten (10) months after she complained. While there is no specified time period that qualifies, the courts have typically found that there is no causal connection when the time period exceeds eight (8) months. But, each case is determined by the specific facts of that case.
Employer Had a Reason Before the Protected Activity Occurred
With temporal proximity being the only basis for establishing a causal connection, and the fact that the Plaintiff had been criticized about her performance long before she ever complained about disability discrimination, the employee could not show a causation connection. The employer had reason to terminate the employee before she engaged in protected activity by complaining of the discrimination. This fact weighed heavily against the employee in establishing retaliation.
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 Birmingham 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!