Both federal and state laws protect an employee from retaliation by their employer as a result of the employee reporting illegal discrimination. In other words, it is illegal for an employer to terminate you or otherwise change the conditions of your employment because of your decision to report discrimination. Even if the underlying discrimination is ultimately determined not to be unlawful, employers still can be held liable for retaliating against an employee who makes a good faith report of discrimination, including sexual harassment or discrimination based on race, gender, age or other protected categories. (For a list of protected categories, see my previous blog on hostile work environment here: http://joelarsonlaw.com/2015/08/01/hostile-work-environment-do-i-have-a-case-against-my-current-or-former-employer/.)
To make a prima facie case of retaliation against his/her employer, a plaintiff must show: 1) he/she engaged in protected activity by Title VII, i.e. reporting the discriminatory conduct; 2) the employer took adverse employment action against him/her; and 3) a causal connection existed between the protected activity and adverse employment action. Some common examples of “adverse employment action” are termination, demotion, an unwanted transfer to another department, failing to promote a qualified candidate and taking away important job duties. Once a prima facie case of retaliation is met, the burden flips to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its actions. If the employer is able to do that, the employee then gets the opportunity to prove that the employer’s proffered reasons for its treatment of the employee were pretext for discrimination.
The key to bringing suit for retaliation is that the adverse employment action must actually hinder the employee’s ability to make a living. The easy example is when an employee is terminated, that immediately causes monetary damages as the employee has lost his/her salary. Similarly, if the employee is demoted or passed over for a promotion that he/she deserved, the difference in salary or pay “but-for” the retaliation becomes how you calculate the money damages. If you have been the victim of retaliation, in some instances you may also be entitled to reinstatement to your job, emotional distress compensation, treble damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under Title VII, and your attorney fees and costs.
No one deserves to be retaliated against for speaking up about their own rights in the workplace. If you have been subject to workplace retaliation as described above, contact my office for a free consultation today.