Locked out of the office: Is that retaliation—or should she have knocked on the door?

An employee who has filed a discrimination complaint may worry about retaliation.

That concern can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the worker believes her supervisor is out to get her.

Fortunately, an employee’s mere suspicion about possible reprisal, based on seemingly minor supervisory actions, won’t persuade a court that retaliation occurred. Instead, workers are expected to take a bit of initiative.

Recent case: Trish, a manager for the Avis car rental company, filed a discrimination complaint. Soon, she sued, alleging she had suffered retaliation for doing so.

The harm she allegedly suffered did not seem particularly severe to the court that heard her lawsuit.

Trish complained that her supervisor had locked her out of the office where she ordinarily performed her job, making her work at the counter alongside hourly employees. She said she could only get into the office after the supervisor left, which meant she had to spend extra time at work to get her work done.

But she also testified that she never tried knocking on the door and that her supervisor, who shared the office with Trish, might just have been on the phone. The supervisor never told her to work at the counter either.

That was enough for the court to conclude a reasonable worker would have pushed for access to the office and not assumed the worst. Trish’s case was dismissed. (Lawson v. Avis, 2nd Cir., 2017)

Final note: Retaliation is measured by whether a reasonable employee would have been dissuaded from reporting discrimination knowing the consequences.