Many state and federal statutes make it unlawful for employers to retaliate against employees who file internal discrimination complaints or otherwise claim that some wrongdoing has occurred. These laws have specific, and limited, remedies.
That’s one reason employees’ lawyers are always looking for creative ways to bring additional claims, especially those that might allow unlimited awards for violations.
Fortunately, courts don’t seem to be in a hurry to expand the opportunities for employees to file lawsuits that tie up court resources.
Recent case: Erin was placed on a performance improvement plan when her supervisor said she wasn’t doing her job as well as expected.
Soon, Erin began filing internal complaints about her supervisor’s behavior.
For example, Erin claimed the supervisor yelled at her and her co-workers and called them “retards.” The supervisor admitted she sometimes yelled and pounded her fist on a desk, but she denied ever calling anyone insulting names.
Erin was terminated and sued for retaliation. She alleged that a handbook provision that promised no retaliation for filing a complaint was essentially a contract and that she had been fired in retaliation for reporting her supervisor. She sought a jury trial with the potential for unlimited damages.
The court rejected her argument. It said that there was no express or implied contract in the anti-retaliation policy. It merely restated the law on retaliation; it didn’t give Erin an additional ground for litigation. (O’Brien v. Permasteelisa, DC MN, 2017)