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Court: Vague EEOC complaint isn’t protected

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

By now, you no doubt understand the dangers of retaliating against someone who has filed an EEOC discrimination complaint. Some workers think all it takes to stop legitimate discipline is to file with the agency. They assume that anything the employer does to them after is retaliation.

But courts are losing patience with workers who use this tactic. They are scrutinizing the complaints and refusing to consider frivolous ones protected activity. Here’s how that worked in one case.

Recent case: Todd was a fire chief in La Marque. His dispute with the city began when he allegedly refused to fire a subordinate who served as president of the firefighters union. Todd filed an EEOC complaint in which he alleged that he was punished for refusing to “terminate my staff for no cause.”

Eventually, Todd resigned after allegedly being labeled a racist when two black employees brought discrimination complaints against him.

The city argued that anything that happened to Todd after he filed the EEOC complaint was irrelevant because the initial complaint wasn’t protected activity. The complaint, they claimed, didn’t touch on anything that is illegal under Title VII or any other laws the EEOC enforces and Todd couldn’t have believed in good faith that the complaint did.

The court agreed that Todd hadn’t engaged in protected activity and therefore didn’t have a retaliation case. (Zacheri v. City of La Marque, No. 3:11-CV-518, SD TX, 2013)

Final note: Of course, if it were true that Todd was disciplined for refusing to unfairly fire a union president because of his status as a union official, then Todd might have had a case under the National Labor Relations Act. But he didn’t file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

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