Are Employees Who Make Verbal Discrimination Complaints Protected From Retaliation?
For more than twenty years, our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida have litigated employment discrimination cases in Florida courts. Through their decades of experience handling employment discrimination cases, our employment discrimination attorneys in Ocala, Florida know that a common employment law myth is that employees are protected from retaliation only when they make a written discrimination complaint. An employment law myth disingenuously promoted by employers who routinely argue that in order to be protected from retaliation under employment discrimination law, employees must lodge a “formal” discrimination complaint and verbal discrimination complaint is not a “formal” discrimination complaint. Under this fanciful employer take on employment discrimination law, employers are lawfully entitled to retaliate against employees who complain about workplace discrimination unless the complaint is in writing.
In this article, our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida explain how the decision in Russell-Webster v. Raimondo, 2023 WL 8358652 (E.D. Okla. Dec. 1, 2023) shows that employees are not required to make a “formal” or written discrimination complaint in order to secure protection from retaliation under employment discrimination law.
Employee Protection From Retaliation
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, and religion. In order to protect employees who endure workplace discrimination, Title VII contains an anti-retaliation provision. Under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision, employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about perceived discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, or religion. As observed by the court in Gregory v. Daly, 243 F.3d 687 (2d Cir. 2001), Title VII “protects employees in the filing of formal charges of discrimination as well as in the making of informal protests of discrimination, including making complaints to management.” Thus, employees who make informal protests of discrimination, including making complaints to management, are protected from retaliation under Title VII. In order to secure protection from retaliation under Title VII, as the court in Fassbender v. Correct Care Sols., LLC, 890 F.3d 875 (10th Cir. 2018) explained, an employee “doesn’t need to show that she reported an actual Title VII violation; rather, she must only show a reasonable, good-faith belief that she was opposing discrimination.”
In Russell-Webster, a woman named Russell-Webster brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the U.S. Department of Commerce (the “Department”), for which Gina Raimondi, Secretary of the Department of Commerce, is the titular head. Russell-Webster claims that the Department violated Title VII by firing her in retaliation for oral complaints about gender and race discrimination in the workplace.
In July 2019, Russell-Webster began working for the Department as a Census Field Supervisor at the Census Bureau’s office in Oklahoma. Russell-Webster alleges that during a one-week period in late July 2019, a man who would become her supervisor in August 2019, Fawehinmi, was present in the office and “refused to acknowledge or speak” to white female employees “while conversing with Black employees.” Russell-Webster further alleges that, on August 1, 2019 (the day before taking control as her supervisor), Fawehinmi visited her work site and humiliated her by yelling at her in front of other employees and trainees. Russell-Webster claims that Fawehinmi told her that she was prohibited from speaking to anyone at the office, as he was “instituting his own rules and that those rules were only known between Fawehinmi and his subordinates.”
Upon leaving the office for the day on August 1, 2019, Russell-Webster asserts that she called her supervisor and reported all of Fawehinmi’s behavior. Russell-Webster claims that she complained that Fawehinmi was discriminating against her and other employees because of their gender and race, and that Fawehinmi’s alleged discriminatory behavior created a hostile work environment. Russell-Webster maintains that her supervisor promised to take “action based on [her] complaint of discrimination and hostile work environment,” even though her supervisor’s resignation was effective the next day. Russell-Webster further contends that she went to the office of Fawehinmi’s supervisor on August 2, 2019 and made an oral discrimination complaint against Fawehinmi in the context of a discussion about her future with the Census Bureau.
Russell-Webster alleges that, on August 5, 2019, she submitted papers to resign from her position in the Census Bureau’s office in Oklahoma so that she could accept a full-time position in the Census Bureau’s office in Colorado. On August 20, 2019, Russell-Webster received notice from the Census Bureau’s office in Colorado that the Oklahoma office had processed a “termination for insubordination” without eligibility for rehire for her. As a result, according to Russell-Webster, the Colorado office “had no choice but to withdraw the offer of employment.” Russell-Webster claims that the Department falsely processed her separation from employment as a “termination for insubordination” without eligibility for rehire in retaliation for her oral complaints of discrimination.
Written Discrimination Complaint Not Required
The Department filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Russell-Webster’s retaliation claim. In moving for dismissal, the Department argued that Russell-Webster was not protected from retaliation by Title VII because her “oral communications were not formal discrimination complaints.” Thus, the Department maintained that only employees who lodge written discrimination complaints are protected from retaliation under Title VII. In denying the Department’s motion for dismissal, the trial court explained that Russell-Webster’s oral discrimination complaints entitled her to protection from retaliation under Title VII so long as she “honestly and reasonably believed that she was reporting discrimination.”
Marion County, FL Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment discrimination attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have been retaliated against for complaining about workplace discrimination or have questions about your protection from retaliation under employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.