When employees file discrimination charges, they often worry that they will somehow suffer retaliation. In fact, their attorneys frequently remind them that retaliation is illegal and that they should be on the lookout for it. Tacking retaliation charges onto discrimination claims is big business for lawyers.
That’s why it’s critical for managers to understand they simply cannot retaliate.
It’s also why it’s important to keep a lid on the news that someone has filed a discrimination complaint. The fewer people privy to the complaint, the less likely retaliation will occur.
As the following case shows, it’s almost impossible to make retaliation charges stick if the alleged retaliator doesn’t know the employee complained.
Recent case: Evelyn Walker, who is black, worked as a secretary for the University of Rochester in its temporary staffing pool. During her first year, she got a generous amount of temporary assignments from managers and supervisors. Then she filed an EEOC discrimination claim.
The next year, she had fewer assignments. She assumed it was because she had filed the EEOC complaint, and she sued for retaliation.
But HR explained to the court that it hadn’t told any of the managers who had the power to select Walker for temporary assignments about the complaint. Therefore, the university argued, none of them could have targeted Walker for retaliation. Since Walker didn’t have any proof to rebut the HR office’s word, she couldn’t prove retaliation. (Walker v. University of Rochester, No. 04-CV-6482, WD NY, 2008)
Final note: Who should know about an EEOC, internal or state discrimination claim? Only those who really need to know. For example, if you settle a case with a transfer, don’t tell managers in the employee’s new division about the reason. That helps give the employee a fresh start—and helps prevent possible retaliation.
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