The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Florida employers, has approved new grounds for discrimination lawsuits. It recently ruled that employees who file discrimination complaints can sue for retaliation if their employers punish them with a hostile work environment.
The 11th Circuit was the final federal circuit to approve this cause of action.
Essentially, the ruling makes it illegal to engage in a campaign to get an employee to quit because she filed a discrimination complaint.
Recent case: When Diane and several other doctors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs filed internal EEO complaints, they soon found themselves on the receiving end of what they perceived as character assassination, interference with their research activities and other hostile acts.
They sued and won in a jury trial. The VA appealed, arguing that the 11th Circuit never recognized a retaliatory hostile work environment.
But the 11th Circuit said that it finally did, joining the other federal circuits. It upheld the jury decision in this case. (Gowski, et al., v. Shinseki, No. 09-16371, 11th Cir., 2012)
What employers must do: Be sure to cover the concept of retaliatory hostile work environment in your supervisor training. Explain that making life miserable for an employee—even if not accompanied by a concrete action like termination or demotion—may be retaliation. After a discrimination complaint has been resolved, remind supervisors that you won’t tolerate any form of retaliation.
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