Your good disciplinary records will almost always beat employee’s retaliation claim

If you are certain you can justify your action, don’t be afraid to discipline a worker who has filed a discrimination charge or otherwise opposed alleged discriminatory actions. Generally, courts give employers leeway to discipline as long as they believe they acted in good faith and didn’t single out the complainant for harsher punishment than others outside his protected class.

Recent case: Thomas, who is white, worked for the U.S. Marshals Service. He did not get along with his boss, who is Hispanic. When a co-worker alleged he had been the victim of discrimination, Thomas said he would back the co-worker’s claim. He did not tell his supervisor.

Around the same time, Thomas was demoted by his supervisor.

Thomas filed an internal discrimination complaint, alleging he had been demoted because he is a white male. He would later allege that he was eventually discharged in retaliation for making that complaint.

But the Marshals Service showed it hadn’t known about his support for the co-worker; therefore it could not have discriminated against him for that support when it demoted Thomas. Plus, it had excellent records showing that it fired him after he allegedly violated federal conflict-of-interest laws during his time with the service.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case, reasoning that the Marshals Service had shown it knew nothing about Thomas’s alleged support for his co-worker and that it also had good reasons for eventually firing him. (Bullen v. Sessions, 9th Cir., 2017)