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Beware discipline after employee talks to EEOC

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

It’s unlawful to punish employees for cooperating with the EEOC. If anyone who has been in contact with the EEOC is suddenly fired, reassigned or otherwise subjected to some negative action, you’re courting a retaliation lawsuit.

Recent case: Frederick was a trainer at a university sports department. When a new athletic director came on board, Frederick saw the woman behave in an allegedly inappropriate, sexual way toward a secretary in the athletic department.

When the secretary was later fired, she filed an EEOC complaint alleging that the athletic director had “undressed” her with her eyes and flicked her tongue at her.

Shortly after the secretary’s discharge and the subsequent EEOC complaint, Frederick attended an athletic department meeting. The college president allegedly told everyone in attendance that they were treating the athletic director poorly. He said the university “would let anybody go who opposed” her.

The EEOC conducted interviews with athletic department staff, including Frederick. In front of attorneys representing the university, Frederick told investigators what he had ob-served. A month later, he was fired without a stated reason, although the university later noted a long list of supposed shortcomings.

Frederick sued, alleging retaliation for participating in the EEOC interview.

A jury awarded more than $100,000 in damages, apparently believing that the real reason Frederick was fired was his cooperation with the EEOC. On appeal, the university argued that it decided to fire Frederick well before he testified and that no one knew what he told investigators.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that explanation, concluding that because the university’s lawyers had been present, the university could be presumed to know what Frederick has said. It let the jury award stand. (Robinson v. Jackson State University et al., 5th Cir., 2017)

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