Can I Sue for Retaliatory Acts Other Than Getting Fired?

Employment discrimination often involves retaliation. For example, if you suffer from racially discriminatory practices at work, and the company fires you after you complain about it, the latter act is one of retaliation. Federal, state, and local laws prohibit both discrimination and retaliation. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit here in New York has explained, the anti-retaliation provision of federal employment discrimination law “is not limited to discriminatory actions that affect the terms and conditions of employment.” In other words, your employer (or former employer) may be liable for retaliation even if there is insufficient evidence to support a discrimination claim.

Suffolk County Judge Orders New Trial, Admits Misapplying the Law

Sometimes even judges do not quite understand this. Recently a federal judge in Suffolk County ordered a new trial on a former municipal employee's retaliation claim after acknowledging he misstated the law to the jury on this subject. While the judge declined to disturb the jury's verdict for the defendant on related discrimination charges, the plaintiff will be allowed to have a new jury consider her retaliation claims.

The plaintiff worked for the Town of Islip in Suffolk County for nearly six years. She alleged that the town fired her after she complained about multiple acts of discrimination in the workplace. But her termination was not the only alleged act of retaliation. At trial, the plaintiff also presented evidence that Islip officials gave her “written reprimands,” altered her job duties, and terminated her health insurance early, all in an effort to discourage her discrimination complaints.

Before instructing the jury, the judge held a charging conference with the parties. The judge determined the alleged retaliation was a “single act”–the plaintiff's termination–and that the jury could not find the town liable for “interim retaliation.” In other words, the firing was the “only materially adverse employment action” the jury could consider. And as noted above, the jury ultimately found that there was neither discrimination nor retaliation.

Upon further reflection, the judge said he got the instruction wrong. The other adverse actions described above could all separately support a retaliation claim. More to the point, the judge said he “should have asked the jury to also consider whether retaliation was the but-for cause of the other aggregated alleged adverse employment actions taken against the Plaintiff.” Ultimately, retaliation does not require proof that an action “change the terms and conditions of the plaintiff's employment.”

Speak With a New York Employment Discrimination Lawyer Today

Pursuing retaliation claims are important because, in many if not most cases, the goal of such acts is to prevent an employee from pursuing a valid employment discrimination case. The anti-discrimination laws have no meaning if employees are afraid they will lose their jobs or face an even more hostile work environment if they step forward to assert their rights. This is why the moment you suspect your employer is trying to discourage you from complaining about discrimination, you need to contact a qualified New York employment attorney. Call the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar at 800.496.3076 if you need to speak with someone today.

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