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Beware retaliation charge following transfer

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employees who are transferred to other positions after complaining about discrimination could end up collecting big from their employers. That’s true even if the transfer doesn’t result in a base pay cut or lost benefits.

Reason: The law lets juries punish employers for retaliation based on factors such as lost prestige, overtime pay and other, less tangible benefits.

Recent case: Officer Thomas Williams rose through the ranks of the Texas Department of Public Safety, eventually joining the Governor’s Protective Detail (GPD).

Officers in the GPD wear civilian clothing, drive late-model cars from the state motor vehicle fleet, travel with the governor and dignitaries to foreign countries and special events like the Super Bowl and have generous expense accounts. They work extensive overtime, so they routinely earn significantly more than their base salaries. Williams earned $16,000 in overtime during his first year.

Then he complained about what he perceived as discrimination against black and female officers who applied to join the GPD. Texas investigated and replaced Williams’ supervisor.

Williams claimed he was then punished for having spoken out. His performance scores fell and he was transferred to the narcotics division, where he had no opportunity for overtime, had to wear a uniform, drove a beat-up car and no longer had a generous expense account. He sued for retaliation.

A jury agreed and awarded Williams $128,000 in back pay, $391,000 in front pay, $100,000 for mental anguish, plus attorneys’ fees. The Court of Appeals of Texas upheld that decision, concluding that the transfer might have dissuaded a reasonable employee from raising discrimination complaints. (Texas Department of Public Safety v. Williams, No. 03-08-00466, Court of Appeals of Texas, 2010)

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