Working life has changed a lot in recent years, but the laws governing workplace behavior, primarily Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA), remain operative. While many may believe the laws focus on employee behavior ( as with sexual harassment cases) or other forms ofdiscrimination, in fact, the greatest number of complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) involve unlawful retaliation.
Types of protected activities
Employers break the law when they punish an employee for exercising their protected rights within the workplace.
In effect, the employers’ actions discourage employees from taking protected actions. Protected actions can include, but are not limited to, reporting harassment to a supervisor, requesting an accommodation concerning time off or for a religious purpose and refusing to comply with discriminatory policies.
If the employer retaliates against an employee for exercising one of these rights, they have broken the law. Examples of retaliatory actions include firing the employee, demoting them or giving them an unfavorable change in assignments, hours or duties..
Workers who feel they have been subjected to unlawful retaliation can begin a claim by filing a complaint with the EEOC.
A recent court case included just such as an action as the basis for a claim of retaliation.
A government employee appealed a ruling against her claims of retaliation under the CRA and other federal statutes. In addition to failing to follow established procedures for her claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit addressed why the claim would have failed under retaliation’s requirements.
A woman who worked as an administrative specialist in the contracts division of the U.S. Navy was reassigned with others to a different position within the contracts division. She alleged the Navy retaliated against her this way because of multiple EEOC filings she had made years earlier.
Citing Title VII, the court cited a case that establishes the elements of a retaliation claim:
- Employee engaged in a protected activity
- Employer acted adversely against her;
- A casual connection exists between the protected activity and the adverse action.
Time between activity and action by employer plays pivotal role
The employee had filed EEOC complaints in 2005, 2007 and 2013. As often occurs with many retaliation cases, the time that had elapsed did not show a connection between the activity and her reassignment.
Numerous factors specific to each case weigh heavily on the outcome of an employment discrimination claim. Attorneys who understand the nuances in the law can offer guidance.