Can a Former Employer Retaliate Against Me for Suing Them?

There are situations in which a person affected by gender discrimination or similar forms of illegal conduct is reluctant to come forward and pursue a claim because he or she fears retaliation from an employer (or former employer). For instance, what happens if a wrongfully terminated employee files a discrimination lawsuit, only to have the former employer turn around and file its own lawsuit or counter-claim against the employee alleging some sort of misconduct?

Judge Allows Amended Complaint Alleging Counter-Claims as a Form of Illegal Retaliation

According to a recent decision by a federal judge in Manhattan, such counter-claims may in and of themselves qualify as illegal retaliation under employment discrimination laws. This case, Santi v. Hot in Here, Inc., is an ongoing lawsuit still in its early stages. The judge's decision here involved a motion filed by the plaintiff in the case to amend her complaint.

Here is some background. The plaintiff is an African-American woman. She previously worked for the defendants, a media company and its married co-owners. During the course of her employment, the plaintiff alleged that the defendants regularly “made racially and sexually inappropriate comments to her.” In addition, the plaintiff alleged she was not paid overtime as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the New York Labor Law (NYLL).

About a month after filing her initial complaint in this case, the defendants filed their answer and made several counter-claims of their own. The counter-claims accuse the plaintiff of “negligent misrepresentation” in connection with her initial job application–she purportedly used a male pseudonym to get hired–and misappropriating company property by using her company subscription to an online platform outside of work hours.

The plaintiff then moved to amend her complaint to include, among other things, additional allegations of illegal retaliation. In other words, she maintained the defendants' counterclaims were an attempt to intimidate her in retaliation for bringing her prior claims. The defense asked the judge to deny the plaintiff permission to amend her complaint.

But the judge sided with the plaintiff. The court noted that the substance of the defendant's counterclaims “and the possible financial burden they will impose [on the plaintiff] might well dissuade another worker from bringing similar claims against [the] Defendants.” This is precisely the sort of behavior anti-retaliation laws are designed to discourage. The defense maintained these were “compulsory counterclaims” raised by the plaintiff's complaint and therefore could not constitute retaliation. But the judge rejected that argument, noting that even if the counter-claims themselves have merit, that “determination cannot be made at the pleading stage without the benefit of discovery.” The judge therefore allowed the plaintiff to file her amended complaint.

Speak with a NYC Gender Discrimination Lawyer Today

Litigation against a former employer is rarely simple. That is why you need advice and assistance from an experienced New York City employment attorney who understands the court system and will make every effort to protect your rights. So if you have been the victim of race or gender discrimination and require immediate assistance, contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today to schedule a consultation.