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People's Law Guide


Retaliation: New Rulings Expand Employee Rights



      When employed by Shell Oil Company, Charles Robinson complained of being victimized by bias in the workplace. After leaving the company, Robinson's job hunting efforts were sabotaged when the mammoth petroleum refiner provided untruthful information to potential employers making reference checks.

      Robinson filed a lawsuit based upon federal law which prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who lodge bias complaints. To Robinson's astonishment, the presiding judge dismissed the case when ruling that ex-workers were not entitled to the same rights as "current employees." Numerous other federal judges were issuing identical rulings when hearing similar cases.

      Reviewing the case on appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated Robinson's lawsuit and instructed federal judges to recognize that ex-workers were entitled to the same anti-retribution protections as persons still employed by the entities they lodged bias complaints against.

      Employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers who lodge job bias complaints, even when grievances are found to be erroneous. Persons filing good faith complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other governmental agencies are protected, as are individuals expressing concerns solely within their organizations. The Supreme Court noted that the EEOC had previously published anti-retaliation regulations deserving of enforcement.

      Obvious forms of retaliation, and certain forms more subtle, are illegal. Here are some, but not all, acts of retribution which are banned:

      1) Stripping away responsibilities.
      2) Denying promotions or benefits to those unwilling to dismiss claims of bias.  
      3) Bad faith transfers even when not impacting pay or benefits.

      4) Enhanced scrutiny or selective enforcement of rules.
      5) Unfairly placing critical reports in personnel files or refusing to file favorable comments. 
      6) Dishing out the "silent treatment" or other hostile acts. 
      7) Creating intolerable conditions to induce resignations.  
      8) Denying transfers which should have been approved. 
      9) Filing a bad faith, meritless lawsuit against the complaining employee.
      10) Withholding a final paycheck. 
      11) Threatening to reduce retirement benefits should former workers testify on behalf of employment bias cases brought by others. 
      12) Filing false criminal charges.
      13) When providing a job reference, mentioning that a current or former employee complained of discrimination or remarking that a worker resigned due to a belief of being discriminated against. 
      14) Threats or refusals to rehire persons eligible for rehiring. 

      Robinson is far from the only person who experienced the wrath of employers angered by those claiming the existence of job bias. Since 1990, the number of retaliation claims filed with the EEOC has surged.  In fact, retaliation is the fastest growing type of illegal discrimination complaint, the EEOC reports.

      Fortunately for Robinson and millions of other American workers, the Supreme Court has expanded the rights of employees and ex-workers who stand up when speaking against illegal discrimination in the workplace. 


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