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Workplace Retaliation

The main purpose of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to eliminate unlawful discrimination and retaliation in the workplace. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was given powers to enforce the laws that make it “illegal to fire, demote, harass, or otherwise “retaliate” against people (applicants or employees) because they filed a charge of discrimination.” It further states that is also illegal for an employer or covered entity to do the same because they complained about ‘discrimination on the job, or because they participated in an employment discrimination proceeding (such as an investigation or lawsuit).” A covered entity is an employer with 15 or more employees who are protected under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and American with Disabilities Act.

With respect to retaliation, if an employee files a complaint against an employer about workplace harassment or discrimination either to an internal body or an external body such as the EEOC, federal law “forbids retaliation when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.” The law also protects individuals who cooperate in an EEOC investigation or serve as a witness to an EEOC investigation or litigation according to a Supreme Court decision.

However, The Supreme Court of the United States in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar recently revisited the issue of workplace retaliation and discrimination after a writ of certiorari (a document which a losing party files with the Supreme Court it to review the decision of a lower court) was presented before the Court. Specifically at issue, does Title VII require a plaintiff alleging retaliation to show that retaliation was the only reason for a negative employment action? In this case, the respondent, Dr. Naiel Nasser, man of Middle Eastern descent, was a faculty member of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW). The doctor in charge of the clinic, Nasser’s supervisor, Dr. Beth Levine began to question the respondent’s work practices and made offensive comments about Dr. Nasser’s ethnic background to another employee. Meanwhile, during this same he sought a promotion and obtained the promotion, however, he was still under Dr. Levine’s supervision and sought a position where he would not be.

He then sought employment at a clinic and was offered a position but would have to resign from UTSW. While waiting for the position start date he wrote his resignation letter to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center citing the primary reason for leaving was “the continual harassment and discrimination” by Dr. Levine. He further stated that she threatened him with potential job and salary loss and her treatment of him stems from her “religious, racial and cultural bias against Arabs and Muslims that has resulted in a hostile work environment.”

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center through an agent of the employer, Dr. Gregory Fitz, took issue with the wording of Dr. Nasser’s resignation letter in regards to Dr. Levine and actively sought to block the respondent from obtaining employment at the clinic. After heavy opposition from UTSW faculty the clinic withdrew their offer. He filed a lawsuit submitting that UTSW constructively discharged and retaliated against him in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Simply put, the respondent argued that a workplace retaliation claim alone would trigger Title VII protection while UTSW held that retaliation would be in addition to a claim based upon discrimination with race, sex, and religion.

The Supreme Court of the United States decided there is separation between retaliation claims from class based discrimination claims and that retaliation claims are to be held to a stricter standard of proof which to the Court made sense given the “ever increasing frequency” retaliation claims are being filed. Thus based on the Supreme Court decision, an employee who believes that an employer has retaliated them against must show that retaliation was not the only factor in any adverse action taken by the employer.

It is a big victory for employers, which hopefully doesn’t discourage those individuals who believe that their rights have been violated or retaliated against in the workplace; this decision just made it more challenging to prove.

If you believe that, you are the victim of retaliation contact The Sanders Firm, P.C. in New York. We will review your claim thoroughly, providing you with an outline of possible actions you may wish to take. We are ready to be your voice for justice.