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Employees who are punished for complaining about alleged illegal discrimination can sue for that retaliation. And they don’t have to show that actual discrimination took place—just that they believed in good faith that it did.

Still, that doesn’t mean that every vague complaint can be used as the basis for a retaliation claim.

Recent case: Gary Love, who is over age 50, worked as an engineering technician. He complained to his supervisor that he believed their mutual bosses higher up the chain of command bullied other employees, threatened them with termination and generally had a “confrontational management style.”

Love got in trouble when he failed to log his proposed vacation days in the company’s scheduling software. His supervisor told him he couldn’t go. Instead, Love had to attend a meeting scheduled when the meeting planner thought Love would be available.

Love got angry and responded to the e-mail informing him of the meeting by hitting “reply to all” and complaining that he was out $1,600 for his canceled vacation.

He was suspended when he later took two days off, again without scheduling them. Then, when the GPS tracking system in his company car showed he was near home and not where his log book claimed he was, he was fired.

Love sued, alleging age discrimination and retaliation for complaining to his supervisor about discrimination.

The court dismissed his case, reasoning that he never even mentioned discrimination in his complaint about the executives’ confrontational management style. Since his complaint wasn’t protected activity, he couldn’t have been retaliated against for engaging in protected activity.

Plus, he offered no evidence that age was a factor in his termination—the company had a legitimate reason for firing him. (Love v. Electric Power Board, No. 09-7538, 6th Cir., 2010)

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