Employers can’t retaliate against employees for filing discrimination claims. But that doesn’t mean you have to treat such employees with kid gloves.
Just tell managers and supervisors to apply the “smell test” to any proposed change to the complaining employee’s work assignments. If the proposed change would dissuade a reasonable employee from filing a discrimination complaint, then something’s probably fishy. Otherwise, go ahead.
Recent case: William Chamberlin, who worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, filed two EEOC complaints. The first was alleged sex discrimination; the second, retaliation.
But Chamberlin could point to only one potentially adverse employment action: his supervisor’s refusal to allow Chamberlin to assume voluntary work beyond his assigned work. The supervisor denied Chamberlin a spot as a replacement leader for therapy groups when regular leaders were unavailable.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overrule a lower court’s dismissal of the claim. It reasoned that no reasonable employee would have been dissuaded from filing a discrimination complaint just because he might be excluded from volunteering for extra work. (Chamberlin v. Principi, No. 06-1291, 2nd Cir., 2007)
Final note: Courts understand that employers have a workplace to run, and they try to avoid micromanagement by judicial decision. Trivial workplace changes aren’t retaliation.