When the North Carolina Legislature passed the Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act (REDA), it intended the law to prevent employers from punishing employees for reporting unsafe or illegal working conditions or filing workers’ compensation claims.
But recently, employees and their lawyers have tried to use REDA to claim more general retaliation for reporting allegations of race discrimination. Fortunately, the courts are shutting the doors on such claims.
Recent case: Damien Hurth and several fellow employees sued their employer for alleged race discrimination. They also claimed they had been retaliated against for complaining about discrimination—and wanted to use REDA as a remedy.
The court ruled they couldn’t rely on REDA. It reasoned that REDA was never meant to apply to workplace problems other than those spelled out in the law. Those narrow areas include protection from punishment for filing a workers’ compensation claim or for reporting unsafe or illegal workplace conditions. It does not include run-of-the-mill discrimination complaints. (Hurth, et al., v. Bradman Lake Group, No. 3:08-CV-370, WD NC, 2009)
Final note: Of course, employees can still claim protection from retaliation under Title VII and other federal discrimination laws. Plus, the federal OSHA law also includes anti-retaliation provisions.
Advice: Routinely warn supervisors and managers not to treat complainers differently than any other employees. If a reasonable employee would perceive the post-complaint treatment as serious enough to make him rethink complaining, it’s probably retaliation.