Workers Sue when Employers Retaliate
It’s bad enough when workers are forced to file a harassment or discrimination claim against an employer. But some employers make it worse by badgering workers who complain.
Workers who suffer the consequences for filing claims against their employers can also sue for retaliation – and not only get their jobs back but also back pay and punitive damages.
Retaliation by employers was at an all-time high in 2011, according to statistics released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). According to the data, retaliation claims made up 37.4 percent of the total number of overall charges filed.
Discrimination, Followed by Punishment
“An employer may not fire, demote, harass or otherwise ‘retaliate’ against an individual for filing a charge of discrimination, participating in a discrimination proceeding, or otherwise opposing discrimination,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The same laws that prohibit discrimination based on workers’ race/national origin, sex, religion, age and disability also prohibit employers from punishing workers for opposing such discrimination by filing or joining lawsuits.
Recent successful examples of such suits include a former Wisconsin state official who won $1.8 million by proving his boss transferred him to a job 110 miles from his home in order rid the state Department of Veterans Affairs of “old white men” and for supporting another worker’s discrimination complaint.
And a police officer won $2 million in a federal lawsuit against the city of Ithaca, N.Y. for race discrimination. He proved that he was denied promotions because he was white, and that his work assignments were changed in retaliation for his filing of human rights complaints.
Connect the Dots
- They have been demoted, suffered a reduction in pay, or been fired.
- They believe it was in retaliation for an action that they took, and
- The employer makes no good faith effort to resolve the matter once it’s been brought to its attention.
Before filing a suit, a worker must first “exhaust” his or her administrative remedies, which means filing an appropriate complaint with the state or federal agency that is responsible for investigating such claims, Adishian explains. That could be the EEOC, or a state employment agency.
But you might even try working it out with your employer first – if you have a good lawyer on your side. “It is our experience that employers can often settle these potentially expensive claims with some prudent settlement efforts at the outset,” Adishian says.
What Can You Get?
Workers who win or successfully settle their retaliation suits are eligible for a variety of remedies, depending on the state where they file. “Potential remedies in California include reinstatement, double backpay, plus interest, compensatory and punitive damages, costs and attorney’s fees,” Adishian says.
That means you could be back at your job and not only reimbursed for any wages you lost or fees you paid your lawyer, but also compensated for the ill-treatment you suffered with a penalty paid by your employer.
An employer will likely learn its lesson through one of these suits. “We believe it has an educational impact on those parties and companies immediately involved,” Adishian confirms but adds, “For how long, who knows?”
Be Vigilant, Detailed
Vigilance is key: If workers don’t stand up for their own rights, who will? Often there are no witnesses to the bad behavior; it will likely be completely up to you to fight back.
“If an employee is experiencing retaliation – and it happens at all levels – we always suggest pulling together a chronology (dates, people, events) and any supporting documentation,” Adishian recommends as a starting point.
And be sure to be specific in your note-taking and information-gathering. “Importantly, we will be looking at what was the precise activity or action that led to the alleged retaliation,” he says.