Taken separately, what a supervisor does or says to an employee who has filed a complaint might not equal retaliation.
But if the slights add up, the picture changes.
That’s why you should follow up several times with each complaining employee to verify there’s no pattern of retaliation.
Recent case: Victoria McCarthy and Katherine Schmitt worked for R.J. Reynolds as marketing representatives.
Their female supervisor frequently commented about their private lives, counseling one of the women she would do better at work if she didn’t have a boyfriend. In fact, she told the women that she was successful because she didn’t have sex with her husband.
But other times, she told the women the opposite, urging them to pursue romantic relationships and have active sex lives. Apparently, she also liked to discuss sexual positions.
It was too much information for McCarthy and Schmitt, who complained to HR.
That’s when their boss began ordering them to do menial tasks that previously had been outsourced. Then they started getting 8 a.m. phone calls from their supervisor, making sure they were at work. When the supervisor began altering their time cards, they sued.
The court said that individually, these incidents didn’t add up to retaliation, but taken together they might well be. It allowed the women’s case to go forward. (McCarthy, et al., v. R.J. Reynolds, No. 2:09-2495, ED CA, 2011)
Final note: Remember, retaliation isn’t always one dramatic incident. It’s often a series of slights.