Slights and on-the-job isolation are not enough for an employee to make out a case for retaliation for reporting discrimination or participating in litigation against one’s employer.
Courts recognize that it’s hard for supervisors accused of illegal behavior not to treat the accuser somewhat differently after the allegations. Just make sure any investigation confirms that the employee truly wasn’t punished with pay cuts, lesser opportunities or truly unfair assignments—which could all amount to substantial retaliation.
Recent case: Jeanette, who worked as a clerk, agreed to participate as a witness in an internal sexual harassment complaint filed by a co-worker against their boss. The employer deemed the complaint unfounded; it issued a memo urging everyone to get along.
Jeanette’s boss then allegedly dressed her down after hearing reports she had made a comment about a couch that had been moved into his office. She allegedly suggested that now he wouldn’t need to go to a motel. Jeanette denied making the comment, and her boss didn’t formally discipline her.
Then Jeanette filed a retaliation complaint against her boss, which was also dismissed. Later, she filed a lawsuit, alleging that her boss had told others to ostracize her and gave her a less desirable assignment for a few weeks when the regular employee covering that shift wasn’t available.
The court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that nothing she complained about was more than a mere nuisance or petty slight. That’s not enough for retaliation. (Slaughter v. College of the Mainland, No. 12-018, SD TX, 2016)