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Employees may be unwilling to complain about harassment or discrimination at work for fear that they will be fired, demoted, or otherwise retaliated against. Most laws that prohibit various kinds of discrimination in the workplace also protect employees from being retaliated against if they report the discrimination. It is important to realize that not all cases where an employee is discharged for making a complaint are valid retaliation cases. An employee can bring a retaliation claim only when the retaliatory action directly results from the employee’s opposition to some discriminatory conduct in the workplace or, in some cases, for participating in an agency investigation into discrimination. 

If an employer takes retaliatory action against an employee immediately after that employee has engaged in a protected action like making a complaint about or participating in a charge of discrimination, then the proximity in time can help establish causation. However, even with large gaps in time between the protected conduct and the retaliation, other types of evidence can help establish that there was a retaliatory motivation behind the employer’s action. For example, spoken or written statements could help determine an employer’s reasons for dismissing an employee. If other similarly situated workers were treated differently, that can also help show that the reasoning offered by the employer might be false.

Retaliatory actions include adverse actions taken against an employee or even actions taken against the employee’s family members or friends.  Although most retaliatory conduct includes things like termination, demotion, or transfer to an unfavorable location or shift, the Supreme Court has held that an employer’s action does not necessarily have to be employment-related to constitute actionable retaliation.  Conduct by employer against an employee outside of work can also amount to retaliation.

To determine whether the retaliation is severe enough to be prohibited, Courts look to whether the employer’s conduct is severe enough to discourage a “reasonable employee” from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. This can differ based on each employee’s particular circumstances and the facts of each case. For example, a change in work schedule could be typical for most workers but constitute prohibited retaliation against a single mother who needs to pick up children from school at certain times.

As an employee, you can bring an action for retaliation even if the court finds that you were not actually discriminated against. If you truly and reasonably believed that you were discriminated against, complained about it, and then were subject to adverse action because of your complaint, you may still have a valid retaliation claim. 

If you believe you have been retaliated against for engaging in protected activity, you should contact a lawyer to determine your options. Remedies available to victims of retaliation can include back pay, front pay, punitive damages, hiring, promotion, reinstatement, and sometimes attorney’s fees and costs. To further discuss your situation, you can call us toll free at (706) 769-4410, send us an e-mail, or fill out a consultation request form and we will contact you as soon as possible.