Generally, all federal, state, and local laws that protect against status-based discrimination (i.e., discrimination based on, for example, gender, race, national origin, and religion, etc.) also protect against retaliation – i.e., punishing an employee – for engaging in “protected activity” as defined by law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, provides, in part, that it is an

unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees or applicants for employment …, because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this subchapter, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter.

This language, for example, provides two forms of protected activity: “opposition” and “participation.”

Generally speaking, in order to establish a case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff must establish

  1. S/he engaged in a protected activity;
  2. The employer was aware of this activity;
  3. The employer suffered a materially adverse employment action; and
  4. A causal connection between the alleged adverse action and the protected activity.”

“Protected activity” may include, depending on the facts of the case:

  • Making complaints to management,
  • Writing critical letters to customers,
  • Protesting against discrimination by industry or society in general, and
  • Expressing support of co-workers who have filed formal charges of discrimination.

An “adverse employment action” may include, depending on the facts of the case:

  • Termination of employment
  • Demotion evidenced by a decrease in wage or salary
  • A less distinguished title
  • A material loss of benefits
  • Significantly diminished material responsibilities.

A party alleging retaliation need not prove that discrimination actually occurred, but only that they had a reasonable, good-faith belief that the complained of practice violates anti-discrimination law.

The law prohibits retaliation with respect to a wide range of job activities, such as hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.

If you believe you have been subjected to unlawful retaliation or punished by your employer for asserting your rights, contact us today for a free consultation.


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