The Supreme Court recently ruled on two employment cases. The result: It’s now even harder to fight retaliation claims.
In the first case, an African-American employee claimed he was fired for bringing a complaint to his supervisor (he believed a co-worker had been discriminated against).
Most retaliation suits are brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – but in this case, the employee couldn’t do this because his EEOC charge wasn’t filed properly. Instead, he sued under an 1866 law that also protects employees from racial discrimination.
Unlike Title VII, the older law doesn’t mention retaliation. But the Court ruled for the employee, saying the ban on discrimination also implied a ban on retaliation.
The second case involved a government employee who sued for retaliation. She was fired after filing an age discrimination complaint. The section of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) that applies to federal workers doesn’t mention retaliation (the section for private employers does).
But like in the case above, the court ruled that a protection against retaliation was implied by the law.
What’s it mean for employers?
The decisions may not have a huge direct impact, employment attorneys say. Title VII already covers retaliation cases and the ADEA decision only applies to federal workers.
But the message to all employers is clear: Courts are more willing than ever to let employees sue for retaliation. That’s bad news for companies, since the number of retaliation claims made each year is already on a quick rise (they now make up 32% of all the charges filed with the EEOC).
What can HR do about it? Now’s a good time to re-train managers on retaliation, reminding them to document all their decisions and watch how they treat employees after any complaint is filed.
Cite: CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries and Gomez-Perez v. Potter
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