When an employee assists in a co-worker’s EEOC case or lawsuit, employers can’t punish the employee who helped. That would be retaliation.
If there’s a short gap between the assistance and the punishment, watch out for a retaliation lawsuit.
That’s why HR should always review disciplinary actions with an eye toward making sure there’s no retaliation. The red flag: sudden discipline against an employee who hasn’t been in trouble before, along with apparent attempts by supervisors to build a case against the employee.
Recent case: Robert Fraker worked as a mechanic for the Marysville school district. When a black co-worker complained that her supervisor had used a racist epithet, she filed an EEOC complaint and named Fraker as a potential witness. She thought he had overheard the name-calling.
Fraker honored the subpoena and testified behind closed doors. The co-worker’s case eventually was settled.
But shortly after, Fraker claimed that his supervisors suspended him and began an investigation aimed at terminating him in retaliation for his testimony. He said supervisors reviewed his computer records and found that he had accessed online dating sites. Plus, they allegedly listened to his voice mail and became suspicious that he might have purchased tires for himself on the school district’s account.
Fraker explained that he had accessed the dating services on lunch breaks or before work. He produced his credit card records to prove he paid for his own tires. Even so, the school district decided to fire him.
Fraker sued for retaliation. The school district argued there was no connection between the testimony and the discipline. The court didn’t buy it and said the case should go to trial. (Fraker v. Marysville Exempted Village Schools, No. C2-08-0058, SD OH, 2010)