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Another worry when complaints get to court: Retaliation may be criminal conspiracy

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Here’s another thing to worry about when an employee testifies on behalf of someone suing the company: Retaliating against that employee by punishing him with additional or new work requirements or a poor evaluation may lead to federal criminal conspiracy charges.

Recent case: John Odum worked for Rayonier, bidding on timber for the company. When a third-party wood producer sued the company for alleged breach of contract, Odum was called as a witness and testified truthfully. The wood producer won a $1.2 million verdict.

Odum claimed that shortly after, company officials began a concerted effort to punish him for testifying. He said they demanded he move closer to work, gave him a poor evaluation and established unreasonable performance-improvement goals. Odum claimed the retaliation left him with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He sued, alleging that company officials conspired to punish him for testifying.

A jury agreed. The company appealed, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reverse the verdict. It said that conspiring to retaliate against a witness by causing bodily injury to that person for testifying in an official proceeding is a federal crime—and that bodily injury can include impairing someone’s mental faculties. (Odum v. Rayonier, et al., No. 06-16251, 11th Cir., 2008)

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