Employees who complain about discrimination can win retaliation cases even if it turns out their underlying complaint didn’t amount to discrimination.
That’s why it’s so important to review all post-complaint discipline—to make sure it’s fair, justified and not potential retaliation. As the following case shows, timing alone can mean a big jury award.
Recent case: Youssef Bouamama got a job as a support technician for Go Daddy, an Internet domain registrar. He was promoted several times.
Then a new supervisor arrived on the scene. Bouamama claimed the supervisor stopped at his cubicle, noticed photos of Morocco and asked where Bouamama was from. Bouamama said he was from Morocco and was a Muslim. The supervisor allegedly responded, “You are lucky I like you.”
Bouamama complained to HR, alleging that he thought the remark had to do with his national origin and religion. Shortly after, the supervisor revamped the division and interviewed employees, including Bouamama, for new jobs. Bouamama wasn’t selected for a position in the re-org, and Go Daddy terminated him. He sued and the EEOC took up his case.
A jury concluded Bouamama hadn’t been discriminated against based on either national origin or religion. However, it did conclude Go Daddy had retaliated against him for reporting the statement. The jury awarded Bouamama $5,000 for mental and emotional pain, $135,000 for lost earnings—and another $250,000 in punitive damages.
Go Daddy appealed, asking for a new trial. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn the verdict. (EEOC v. Go Daddy Software, No. 07-16190, 9th Cir., 2009)
Final note: The EEOC has been aggressively pursuing employers on retaliation claims. Many settle rather than risking a big jury award.
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- Apply personal touch to firings; don't use e-mail
- The New ADA: What It Means for Employers and HR
- Terminated employee claims discrimination? Warn managers against any sort of retaliation