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Growing threat: Courts uphold broad interpretation of retaliation

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

John McMenemy was a lieutenant in the Rochester Fire Department as well as a union officer. He claimed the city twice passed him over for promotion because, while in his union role, McMenemy investigated a sexual harassment allegation against the union president.

McMenemy sued for retaliation and the 2nd Circuit sided with him. In doing so, the court agreed with the Equal Employ-ment Opportunity Commis-sion's broad interpretation of what constitutes retaliation.

The court said Title VII protects workers from any employer, present or future, that retaliates because of the worker's participation in a discrimination investigation. Bottom line: It didn't matter that the investigation involved the union, a third party. (McMenemy v. City of Rochester, No. 00-7199, 2nd Cir., 2001)

Frustrated by the rising tide of litigation, employers are increasingly trying to make workers pay for dragging the company into court. But even if you successfully fend off a discrimination charge, you can get pulled right back into court if you retaliate against that worker. And this case illustrates an added danger: A worker can claim retaliation even though the investigation involved another employer.

Advice: Make sure your managers understand that retaliation for engaging in any type of protected activity (filing a lawsuit, helping with a bias case, etc.) is strictly prohibited, even if the actions didn't happen at your company. A former employee can even sue you for retaliation after he's left your company.

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