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Move affecting income might be retaliation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

It doesn’t take much for an action to be considered retaliation, especially if money is involved. If an employer action affecting a worker’s pocketbook would make a reasonable employee think twice about filing a discrimination complaint, a court is likely to consider the merits of a retaliation lawsuit.

Recent case: Leonard had worked for years as a statistics professor at St. Cloud State University. Leonard is black and was born in Nigeria.

He is also the author of a textbook on statistics, which he likes to use in his classroom. Textbook sales generate additional income from royalties.

Over the years, Leonard had filed several internal complaints and one federal lawsuit over alleged discrimination. When he filed another internal complaint alleging he was being underpaid compared to his white colleagues, management determined that no salary adjustment was warranted.

But during that conversation, someone mentioned Leonard’s lawsuit.

Two months later, Leonard learned that a class he had counted on teaching—and assigning his textbook—would be taught by another professor with less experience (and who didn’t plan on using Leonard’s text).

Leonard was given another, more advanced course to teach instead—with a capped enrollment, and therefore, smaller book royalties.

Leonard sued again, alleging that he has been retaliated against by being assigned a smaller class and not having his textbook used in the larger class.

The court said he had enough evidence to go forward. Managers knew about his previous lawsuit and discussed it in conjunction with his new complaint. Then, a few months later, they altered his class schedule, lessening his royalty income. Such moves might dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining about discrimination in the first place. (Onyiah v. St. Cloud State University, DC MN, 2017)

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