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Are Workers Protected From Retaliatory Harassment After Complaining About Discrimination?

Portland, OR, USA - Nov 20, 2021: Closeup of the Retaliation Complaint form issued by the California Department of Industrial Relations.

Having represented retaliation victims for more than twenty years, our employment lawyers in Marion County know that a common employment law myth is that employees are only protected from retaliatory acts that inflict direct economic harm against them. Because of this employment law myth, our Ocala, Florida employment attorneys have learned, employees often mistakenly believe that retaliation must result in economic harm to them, such as a reduction in pay, demotion, failure to promote, or termination, in order to bring a retaliation case. In this article, our employment lawyers in Marion County explain how the decision in Lloyd v. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 2023 WL 2940229 (E.D. Pa. April 13, 2023) demonstrates that after employees complain about perceived workplace discrimination, federal employment discrimination law protects them from retaliatory harassment even when the retaliatory harassment does not inflict direct economic harm against them.

Legal Protection From Retaliation

Federal employment discrimination law protects employees from retaliation when they complain about perceived discrimination in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), employees are protected from retaliation when they complain about perceived discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about perceived discrimination on the basis of age. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees from retaliation when they complain about perceived discrimination on the basis of disability.

Generally, the protection from retaliation afforded to employees by federal employment discrimination law falls into two categories. Under federal employment discrimination law, employees are protected from retaliatory adverse employment actions. Adverse employment actions in the retaliation context include demotion, reduction in pay, failure demote, suspension without pay, and termination. Although not necessarily required to constitute an adverse employment action, most adverse employment actions generally inflict economic harm against an employee. In other words, if a retaliatory act causes an employee a loss of wages, the retaliatory act constitutes an adverse employment action.

Under federal employment discrimination law, employees are also protected from retaliatory harassment. Unlike most adverse employment actions, retaliatory harassment generally does not inflict direct economic harm against the employee. Instead, retaliatory harassment involves a pattern of discrete acts of retaliation that, when taken cumulatively, create a hostile work environment. Retaliatory acts of harassment include verbal abuse, increased scrutiny, lack of work-related assistance, unjustified criticism, negative performance evaluations, heightened workload, unfavorable job assignments, disciplinary action not resulting in wage loss, and investigation. To violate federal employment discrimination, retaliatory harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim’s employment and create a hostile work environment.

Retaliation Lawsuit

In Lloyd, a woman named Lloyd brought a retaliation claim against her former employer, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), pursuant to Title VII. Lloyd alleges, in relevant part, that she was subjected to a retaliatory hostile environment in violation of Title VII after she complained about perceived sex discrimination in the workplace.

In July 2017, Lloyd began working as a sterile processing technician at CHOP. Lloyd worked with approximately seventeen other technicians on the second shift. Lloyd claims that her supervisor, Newsome, treated the men on her shift better than the women. Lloyd testified that (a) she observed men on her shift taking extra lunch and smoke breaks with impunity, (b) that men received better assignments that women, (c) that male co-workers told her that Newsome adjusted their time clocks when they arrived late to work, (d) that women were disciplined for tardiness more frequently than men, and (e) that Newsome spent hours talking to male employees in her office, but didn’t do so with the women. Lloyd lodged multiple sex discrimination complaints but did not observe any improvement.

After complaining about sex discrimination, Lloyd contends that she was subjected to a broad array of retaliatory acts. After she complained about sex discrimination, Lloyd claims that Newsome refused to offer her overtime, refused to speak to her, assigned her less favorable work duties, and indicated to male co-workers that she had complained about discrimination. Lloyd further alleges that she experienced bullying after her sex discrimination complaints became public, including insults, accused of being a snitch, and a freeze-out from her supervisors. At one point, after she filed a sex discrimination complaint, CHOP management investigated Lloyd for taking notes on the discrimination that she complained about. CHOP, according to Lloyd, did not investigate her sex discrimination complaints. CHOP also subjected Lloyd to disciplinary action for tardiness. Ultimately, Lloyd became depressed and quit her job in November 2016.

Retaliatory Hostile Work Environment

The case proceeded to trial and the jury returned a verdict for Lloyd on her retaliatory hostile work environment claim. After the jury’s verdict, CHOP argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, CHOP maintained that it should have won at trial and wanted the trial court to reverse the jury’s verdict. The trial court denied CHOP’s motion to reverse the jury’s verdict and ruled that Lloyd had produced sufficient evidence for the jury to reasonably find for Lloyd on her retaliatory hostile work environment claim.

In support of its conclusion, the trial court pointed out that the “jury heard testimony from which it could conclude that management didn’t investigate Lloyd’s complaints but investigated her instead.” The trial court also observed that the jury heard testimony that “management revealed her complaint to co-workers,” and that once Lloyd’s co-workers were aware of her complaints, “those co-workers began to bully her and refused to help her at work.” “The daily bullying was so persistent,” the trial court noted, that Lloyd “cried before work every day and often couldn’t leave her bed.”

Free Consultation For Retaliation Victims

One of the most important decisions retaliation victims must make is which employment lawyers to consult with regarding their rights and remedies under federal employment discrimination law. As part of our dedication to helping retaliation victims vindicate their employee rights, an experienced employment attorney will speak with you personally and you will receive the individualized attention your case deserves. We offer free confidential case evaluations for employees, and you will not have to pay to speak with our employment attorneys regarding your rights as a retaliation victim. Our employment lawyers are available for consultation at your convenience, including scheduling telephone consultations for evenings and weekends.

Marion County Employment Lawyers

Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our employment attorneys in Marion County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of retaliation victims. If you have been retaliated against for exercising your employee rights or have questions about your protection from retaliation under federal employment discrimination law, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment lawyers in Marion County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes retaliation 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.

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