It’s hard to prove discrimination, but much easier to prove retaliation. That’s a lesson more and more employers are learning the hard way.
The fact is, anything negative you do to an employee who has complained about alleged discrimination may amount to retaliation—even if the same acts would not be enough to constitute an adverse employment action in the underlying discrimination case. That’s why you must train supervisors and managers to understand that many little slights can add up to one big retaliation lawsuit.
Recent case: Virginia Rosario complained that her supervisor at the New York City Department of Homeless Services punished her for speaking up about alleged discrimination. Her allegations included charges that her office door was ordered removed, she was denied air conditioning, her bathroom was not cleaned and her phone was not repaired when it malfunctioned.
The court ordered a trial. It told the agency that the indignities suffered by Rosario—if considered individually—would not support a discrimination claim. However, taken together, they could amount to retaliation. A reasonable employee could think twice before filing a discrimination complaint if she thought her supervisors would remove her office door and subject her to other small indignities. (Rosario v. New York City Department of Homeless Services, No. 06-CIV-7197, SD NY, 2008)
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