Retaliation can turn a relative molehill of a discrimination complaint into a mountain of legal trouble. And the retaliation doesn’t have to take the form of something dramatic, such as a firing or demotion.
Little things supervisors do—issuing brief suspensions, placing a written warning in a personnel file or even taking away a phone or access to an office for a few days—can add up to retaliation. But supervisors can’t retaliate if they don’t know about earlier discrimination complaints or pending lawsuits.
That’s why you should keep all complaints and litigation as confidential as possible, especially if the employee has a new supervisor and a fresh chance. As the following case shows, talking openly about discrimination matters may backfire.
Recent case: Jamal Uddin worked for New York City when he filed a discrimination complaint. While the case was working its way through the system, a supervisor allegedly began hassling Uddin, docking him three days' pay and taking away his phone and cubicle for breaking a rule.
Uddin added retaliation to his lawsuit. The city argued the supervisor didn’t know about the lawsuit. Unfortunately, someone had posted an article about the lawsuit on a bulletin board, and the supervisor read the article to Uddin. The supervisor then allegedly told Uddin that he was a “troublemaker” and warned him “they are going to get you.”
That was enough to show that the supervisor was aware of the lawsuit, and therefore could have retaliated against Uddin. A jury will decide whether there was retaliation. (Uddin v. City of New York, et al., No. 06-2602, 2nd Cir., 2008)
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